Conversation with Tammi Salas
“My health was deteriorating, my relationships were fractured and I was suffering from full-blown anxiety attacks. I was unhappy with my life, my marriage and I felt like a fraud. It was a really dark time towards the end of my drinking and I felt pretty hopeless. I was out of shape, full of self-loathing and hated the person I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I missed the person I used to be.”
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: What have you had for breakfast today?
Tammi: A cup of Kusmi BB Detox tea (green tea, maté, rooibos, guarana, dandelion and grapefruit), toast with bread made locally at Wild Flour Bakery, organic salted butter and homemade rose petal jelly.
Liv: Why did you omit alcohol from your life?
Tammi: My health was deteriorating, my relationships were fractured and I was suffering from full-blown anxiety attacks. I was unhappy with my life, my marriage and I felt like a fraud. It was a really dark time towards the end of my drinking and I felt pretty hopeless. I was out of shape, full of self-loathing and hated the person I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I missed the person I used to be.
Liv: You wrote in your Sonoma Coast Weekly Blog about your first month of sobriety, in which you talked about the concept of instead of counting days – which you celebrated with feelings of trepidation and shame – to instead focus on mindful practises surrounding your drinking habits. Can you talk me through arriving at that decision and what some of the benefits of that change in mindset?
Tammi: In the beginning, it was as if I was playing a game with my sobriety. I did not want to call myself an alcoholic, so I didn’t want to count days. That practice felt punishing and seemed to focus on the deprivation I was feeling from removing alcohol from my life. Instead, I wanted to focus on the abundance that I was feeling once I had removed alcohol from my life. I’m glad I chronicled those early days and months because my feelings have changed quite a bit throughout my recovery journey. I abstained from alcohol for seven months all on my own by training to hike four mountains, re-enrolling in college after a 25-year hiatus and reading every memoir I could get my hands on by people who had overcome their drinking problems. I feel like I truly got sober once I started attending AA meetings on the day after my seven month alcohol-free milestone.
“I came to rely upon art as my compass for the day and, eventually, the practice navigated me towards sobriety. I have continued this practice and still create something, anything every single day.”
Liv: You said that using your blog as a space to share your journey as it relates to sobriety and how opening yourself up to your creative side has saved you – what has it saved you from?
Tammi: About a year before I quit drinking, I committed to a year-long self-imposed project wherein I would draw something, anything in a journal every single day during 2014. This daily practice usually commenced over coffee at my dining room table. More often than not, I was nursing a hangover, sipping coffee and piecing together the events from the night before. This daily routine started to ground and center me. My art would often reflect my feelings of despair or hope for brighter days ahead. The practice morphed over time and I started to see how getting out of my head and putting words and images on paper distracted me from my self-sabotaging ways. I started to try new mediums and carve out time for art-making. I came to rely upon art as my compass for the day and, eventually, the practice navigated me towards sobriety. I have continued this practice and still create something, anything every single day.
Liv: What does creative expression look like to you?
Tammi: I think the way we dress and accessorize, the food we cook, the cars we drive, the books we read and the music we listen to help to inform the world about our creative selves. I firmly believe each and every choice we make throughout our day contributes to our higher, creative selves.
[ctd] For me, I think creative expression permeates every part of my existence and looks a lot like normal life to me. Cooking elaborate meals and entertaining used to be where I sunk a lot of my creative energy, but since I’ve stopped drinking that avenue of creative expression has come to a pretty abrupt halt. Hitting thrift shops and hunting for mid-century furniture, housewares and clothing is another way I feed my creativity. Growing up, when my parents didn’t have a lot of money, we would rearrange the household furniture after school with my mom. Reimagining and redesigning a room using only what you have on hand is a game I like to play, too. Handwriting letters, drawing in my journals, painting and writing are the go-to forms I use to express my creativity, but I think we can all live a creative life just by sharing our true selves with the world.
Liv: You talk of this place – your blog – as a place to stretch you as a human. Define stretching?
Liv: In relation to your truth, you said that if you’re not rigorously honest, you’ll chip away at your self-worth. What does rigorous honesty look like?
Tammi: Telling the unedited version of the truth, no matter what.
“I think the concept of rigorous honesty holds me accountable for my life. I’m no longer the martyr or the victim. When I’m 100% honest with myself and others, I feel an incredible amount of relief. The practice of being rigorously honest has been the fastest way I’ve found to redeeming my self-worth. I had no idea access to worthiness, confidence and self-love were so readily available to me. All I had to do was tell the truth.”
Liv: And how does rigorous honesty build self-worth?
Tammi: I think the concept of rigorous honesty holds me accountable for my life. I’m no longer the martyr or the victim. When I’m 100% honest with myself and others, I feel an incredible amount of relief. The practice of being rigorously honest has been the fastest way I’ve found to redeeming my self-worth. I had no idea access to worthiness, confidence and self-love were so readily available to me. All I had to do was tell the truth.
Liv: You said that you’re learning that the idea is that humanness was born out of adaptation and the ability to communicate and inscribe memories through art, music and writing. Tell me more about that statement and what it means to you?
Tammi: While taking a college art history class earlier this summer, I learned that humans have been called to make art since the dawn of mankind. My ability to process and fully understand this innate human desire to create art gave me permission to further explore my own artistic desires and try new things on for size, no matter how kooky they initially seemed to be. I love documenting my life through art and words and after taking this class, I felt like it really was what we as humans are predisposed to do.
Liv: I can totally relate to your being inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert. You recalled her words and advice on inspiration and when words ‘thundered through her she should collect it and grab it on the page’ – how do you grab your creativity and what medium(s) do you use to translate it?
Tammi: For years, I woke up in the middle of the night and jumped on my computer and wrote until sunrise. I was usually nursing the beginnings of a hangover and punishing myself, but I wrote and I’m glad I did. When an idea comes to me to make something, I need to drop everything and give it a go. Because if I don’t drop everything and make time for it, I’ll forget about it. The creative urge leaves me and I often forget my initial musings about an idea or concept. it’s important for me to listen to the creative voice that is prodding me along and pushing me to create.
At the moment, my preferred mediums are pen and paper. I draw lines and shapes as a form of meditation, as well as lists and word associations.
Liv: What parallels can you draw between creative expression and connection?
Tammi: Creative expression and connection sync up for me in two significant ways.
The first being that I feel more connected to my true self when I’m expressing myself through art. I feel like I’m honoring that place in me that needs to create and then get it the hell out of me and put it into the world.
The second way is a more recent observation about how sharing my art through social media has connected me with others. Through the wonderful world of Instagram, I’ve connected with several creatives over the past few years and that has absolutely fueled a lot of my drive and determination in terms of going back to school and majoring in art at my age (45 years old). Currently, I’m working on illustrating a book, contributing to a recovery-themed art exchange and entering a self-portrait into an exhibit at a local gallery. All of these projects were sparked by connection through Instagram, believe it or not. So the connection and creative expression lines are not only parallel in my life, they are also intersecting!
Liv: What has been your relationship with food?
Tammi: I’ve had a pretty healthy relationship with food. I live in a small farming community with a population of 126 people. I’m surrounded by sheep, turkey and chicken ranches, dairy farms and vegetable farmers. We are lucky to live and shop locally in this rich agricultural community. I buy my eggs from my local farmer, my 84 year old neighbor gifts me lettuce a few times a week from her garden, and random zucchini can be found on the post office counter with a “free” sign sitting nearby.
Liv: You’ve talked if focusing on the more positive aspects of your life, can you tell me what role good nutrition has featured in your recovery?
Tammi: The day I got sober was the day of my annual physical with my doctor. As I was filling out the patient intake sheet, I decided to tell the truth in the section where they ask How many alcoholic beverages do you drink in a week? I answered 21, but the honest answer was more like 42. My doctor read my answer, took a long pause and then cautiously segued into asking me if I’d be up for trying an elimination diet wherein I would give up alcohol, wheat, dairy and sugar. She asked if I would be willing to eliminate alcohol first and continue to live without it for eight weeks. I signed on and that decision has forever changed the quality of my health and my life. I lost 16 pounds in that first year of sobriety. I’ve also recently reduced my caffeine intake by about 75%, which has helped reduce my anxiety levels. At the suggestion of my esthetician, I’ve also just omitted dairy from my diet over the last month and the cystic acne I had developed along my jawline and throat over the past two years has almost completely disappeared. I feel healthier and that, in turn, makes me feel more confident in my own skin.
Liv: What is your favourite meal?
Top Recovery Tools
- AA meetings
- Good pens + Blank journals
- My gratitude circle w/ 6 other sober women
- Technology (texting, blogs, phone dates, etc.)
- Hot showers (sometimes more than once a day, if needed). Hot showers are a sort of baptism for me when I’m having a hard day. A liquid reset button, if you will.