For the last year or more my little made-up eye has been staring out at you from behind a ripped piece of paper. The response to my avatar is always mixed; sometimes it makes people feel uncomfortable, sometimes it generates questions (the latest one being “Who did your make up?”) and others still greet it with confusion.
For me it has come to symbolise my recovery and, as it is currently undergoing something of a creative re-working, I thought it might be a good time for me to explain the background behind it.
For that I need to take you back to 2013 – six years before I eventually gave in and surrendered to the fact that I was addicted to alcohol.
At that time, here in the UK, we were beginning to see the devastating effects that ‘austerity’ policies were having on the public sector and charities. One particular charity that was close to my heart was Dance Voice, a dance therapy group that worked with the elderly and disabled and who used their therapy to support people with addictions. I had read in the paper that their project supporting people in recovery was in danger of closing and I felt compelled to do something to help. I began trying to figure out what I could do to raise money and it was no surprise that my partner suggested that I seek sponsorship for staying sober for a whole month! I remember him suggesting it and feeling sick at the prospect. A hurried internal conversation began and I tried so hard to find suitable arguments against the suggestion that would not reveal my obsession, but I could find none. That being the case the course was set and I was about to give up the booze for four weeks.
As impossible as it seemed back then, I decided that it would be a very public journey and I used Facebook as a means of demonstrating that journey to those who might be sponsoring me. The last bottle of wine (which I note today was a rather awful bottle of shiraz) was photographed and a post announcing the beginning of the cessation was made. A few days later a celebration, ordinarily an excuse to pop open the champagne, was instead celebrated with bottles of milk and I provided the photo evidence to prove it!
After a few days of this, guess what happened, oh yes that obsession kicked in and I needed a drink bad. The momentum of the initial push was subsiding and I would have to do something drastic if I was going to stick at this for a whole month. I decided on a side project. I posted that if I raised another £50 by the end of the first week then I would demonstrate why Dance Voice was so important to me through the medium of dance. I also allowed my followers to vote for their favourite ‘character’ to perform the dance from a selection of past dressing up episodes of mine. One of those was my altar ego, Tilly, a drag character invented one drunken night many years before.
I have described myself before as an introverted extrovert – something that I still feel today. I crave attention and fear it in equal measure. Dressing up and taking on a new character was the perfect release for me, but doing so also bought attention to me that I found difficult to handle. From an early age I had been attracted to costume, glitter, feathers and big performance routines. I loved drag acts too – and there were plenty of them around when I was growing up; Dame Edna Everage, Danny La Rue, Hinge & Bracket and eventually the great Lilly Savage were all the mainstay of British drag royalty. I wanted a bit of what they had and I feared it too. I loved playing Tilly, but I would never tell anyone how much for fear of ridicule.
Well, my followers chose Tilly. Of course they did – the chance to see me make a fool of myself was not to be missed. And when that extra £50 was raised there I was, dressing up as Tilly once again and practising a routine to “All That Jazz” from the musical Chicago. This time though something was different, this time I was sober and I loved every minute of it and boy, did it connect with people. What had started off as a sponsored sobriety saw me raising well over £1000 in three weeks – all off the back of my crazy little videos. I had had my first taste of sobriety and I had found it liberating, exhilarating and REAL! On the final night of that month I had one last video reveal live on Facebook and I sat poised to watch it with everyone else. As I sat there thinking about the month that had proceeded it I vowed never to pick up another drink again. I was done, done with the obsession, done with the hangovers, done with trying to get what I wanted all the time. I was even saying that to myself as I put that first glass of red wine to my lips. I was drunk by midnight.
Thereafter, I would always look back at those pictures, at the memory of that month and remember how happy I had been. A seed had been planted at least, enough to give me hope for a better life if only I could find the right cause to give up drinking for. What I had yet to learn is that the right cause was simply a life free of addiction, but that was to come in time.
When I started my sobriety journey in April last year my mind immediately returned to that time, to the memory of Tilly and the feeling of liberation. My made-up eye seemed to me the perfect symbol for my liberation, I had this image of my eye looking through a key hole at another world free from addiction and it was only by chance that I found the image of a hole ripped into a piece of paper – perfect for my avatar. A little bit of photo-shopping and I had @SobrietyMatt’s little symbol of liberation. However, if there is one thing that I have learnt over the last 15 months it is that we do not do recovery alone. So many people have joined me – supported me on this journey – that it is no longer a case of “my journey’ it is more “the journey” and we are all on it together. So, when my good friend @ChrisBzchris revealed a new avatar created for her by her talented daughter, Mish, an idea struck me; perhaps it was time to hand over my symbol of liberation to someone else to interpret – and that is just what I did.
The result is just perfect. Instead of peeking out through ripped paper – a wanton sign of destruction no less – it peeks out through a blast of bright blue feathers just as Tilly would do.
Recovery is a lifelong journey and I don’t know what the next steps might be. What I do know is that with your support and encouragement I am discovering more about myself everyday and I even have hope for further liberation in the future. The eye for me symbolises that and this version of it, created through the connections I have made in recovery is the perfect one.
© 2020 @SobrietyMatt images and text