Meet the Blogger: Kelly Grace Swift

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

I never would have thought one of the biggest breakthroughs in my early sobriety would come from running out of glitter!

Yet, there I lay on the floor at 50 years of age with an empty bottle of Glitter in my hand, my mom stroking my forehead and soothing me with her voice, bringing me back to when I was a little girl. It was total hysteria and it was an excruciatingly sober, wonderful moment. A moment some may describe as a “Break-Down,” yet finally with such clarity, I knew it to be a “Break-Out”. It was the first time in years that I saw a glimpse of my true self. Yes, here I was, this Martha Stewart wanna-be whose best friend and confidant had been wine and vodka for many years; I was an alcoholic.

During my glitter Break-Out I was only five months into my sobriety. Not only that, but I was going through a divorce, relocating from Southern California to Northern California, and feeling extremely depressed at the distance between myself and my children. (I had decided to temporarily relocate away from my family during the beginning, vulnerable stages of my sobriety). I was five months sober so why did I feel so hopeless? I was far away from familiarity and feeling extremely naked and defenseless. I missed my kids, my friends, my home, and I was absolutely scared to death of what lay before me and my future.

Prior to relocating and becoming sober, my life consisted of an empty marriage, dysfunctional family dynamics, alcoholism, and other “isms“ not yet recognized. My entire family had been in a state of ”fight or flight” for so many years that I had become desensitized and numb to the various chaotic situations. It was like a movie sequence that never ended, but this was real life. During the months leading up to not drinking and after, I honestly wanted to live, yet at times I just wanted to die. These thoughts sadly fluttered in and out of my mind on a daily basis. Going from living this way to having my Break-Out over glitter all started with a seashell project ...

As I was walking aimlessly around town trying to do something with my day, I wandered into a store. I started up a conversation with the store owner. I was living off my past accolades and trying to sell her on my past seashell artwork. Don’t ask me “why?”. I was robotic. I had a spiel, I would recite projects I had done in my past. I knew I needed a career, but I had no idea what that looked like. I was great at decorating and entertaining, and people praised all of my “Martha Stewart” projects I so effortlessly produced (ha, if they only knew!).

As I chatted with the store owner, I realized I had now talked this sweet woman into letting me participate in her Fall Festival. “Yes, I can bring ALL my seashell artwork! Sure, no problem…” I left her store, my body wound so tight I thought I might throw up! Oh my God, I just told her I’d be a part of her Fall Festival! What was I thinking?? Immediately, the perfectionism in me appeared full force and I felt out of control. I need collections! I need seashell crosses, furniture pieces for kids, plants, wall art, table art, garden art, children’s photography seashell crowns (yes, there is such a thing) and OF COURSE I need lots of pumpkins and gourds, natural and GLITTERED! I need to get started immediately! “Crafty Kelly” was back!! A name my friends had given me when they’d call the house and say, “Kelly, back away from the glue gun” or “back away from the glitter”! With this Fall Festival opportunity at hand, I thought to myself, “This must be what I’m suppose to do! I have found my place in the Universe, so I’d better make it PERFECT!!” In reality, I had forced my way into this festival and in retrospect, I was desperate to find purpose and identity.

It was the beginning of October. I had 4 weeks before the Fall Festival and I was going 100mph on auto-pilot. I collected all my supplies. I started making my seashell crosses, seashell cornices, seashell boxes, seashell frames- everything had seashells. If you stood long enough in front of me I’d start to seashell you too! I started going to thrift stores and finding “things,” “anything” and refurbishing it. I started calling family members asking if they wanted to purge “anything” from attics and garages or storage sheds. I needed a table! Found one! Painted it! I then ran out of room in my home and asked my mom if I could set up shop at her place to work and store everything. She agreed. I began collecting containers, any containers, fixing them up, painting them and potting them with succulents. I was literally asking neighbors I had never spoken to if I could cut some of their succulents. They agreed... I started buying pumpkins by the dozen and painting them and glittering them. This went on for 4 weeks. I was working feverishly and working later and later at night, spray painting under the harvest moon while my mom slept.

I did notice my family seemed distant. Every now and then one of them would ask me a question like, “Is this what you want to do now?” Or “What are you going to do with all of this afterwards if it doesn’t sell?” (kind of an important point, as I had absolutely nowhere to store any of this). I have no idea what my face or response was to them. I think I was just in denial.

By the end of the 4 weeks I had taken over the entire first floor of my mom’s large home. I had taken over her entire kitchen, outdoor area, living room, dining room, all her patios, it was everywhere! If that wasn’t enough, I then decided 2 days before the event that I must have tea dipped price tags so they have an old vintage look, just a plain sticker wasn’t going to cut it. So I had batches of tea-filled pots going on her stove with my big wooden spoon swirling the tags around like a little witch. All of the tea stained tags then had to be laid to dry flat, of course! Every counter was occupied with drying tea tags. And all of her floor space inside and outside on 4 patios, was occupied with my “stuff”.

I then decided I needed a sign, right? Like I’m a store?? Blackboard paint on wood was in order! I was driving all over town looking for construction sites and yelling to the workers, “You have any wood scraps?” I was a crazy lady! I searched and found a random piece of wood and painted it! I slightly remember my Mom watching me and asking why I needed a sign as I was re-writing “line items” in my store on the sign in chalk, over and over to get it perfect. I remember snapping at her and replying "Why? Seriously Mom? Why? Because I have a store!" My back was aching, I was exhausted. I had to tag it all and I had no idea how I was going to get it all over there, but I still had a couple more hours to finish one last project: the finale! The show-stopper! A double heart GLITTERED coffee filter wreath.

It was the Friday night before the Fall Festival and it was at this moment- when I came barreling into her house, out of breath, with packages of coffee filters and a glue gun in hand- when my Mom casually said to me in a very meek tone, “Kel, I’m having a couple over for appetizers at 7 tonight”. I froze in the kitchen, staring at her with my boxes of coffee filters, breathing heavily. “Well, I need to do my double heart Mom,” I said firmly, “It needs to hang in the Oak tree above my table tomorrow to set the tone for all of my items!” She nicely said, “You can work while I entertain my guests.” I just stared at her and then quickly got back to work. My heart was beating faster and faster over the past 4 weeks and by the time Friday night came, I was in complete manic mode. I said my hello’s to my Mom’s friends and then quickly asked them to fluff each coffee filter and hand it to me while they stood at the kitchen island and drank their wine.

I saw a look of horror from my Mom, but I was frantic to finish. They politely ate their cheese and crackers, while handing me coffee filters one by one. It was late when they left. I said, “This is it Mom! Now I brush glue on all the edges of the coffee filters with this paint brush and sprinkle them with glitter! It’s going to be beautiful!!” She was very quiet and I noticed she had the newspaper in front of her face. Mom never reads the paper at night. I pulled out my silver glitter for an old 1950’s flare and started shaking away! I sprinkled the first heart and had started in on the second one when I realized my silver glitter had run out! Shake, Shake, Shake! There is NO MORE DAMN GLITTER!!! I ran and checked the clock on the microwave - stores are closed! I run back to the kitchen island and begin shaking the empty bottle of glitter with all my might trying to get one last flake of a shimmer of glitter to fall out onto my double heart.

“MOM! I ran out of glitter!!!!” She slowly lowered her newspaper and looked at me. Then she raised the paper again in front of her face. “MOM!!!” I said, “I ran out of glitter!!!” She lowers the paper, looks at me, and raises it again. I started to cry and shake, grabbing the kitchen island with both hands. “MOM!!! What am I doing??” She slowly lowers her paper and says, “I don’t know sweetie.” “MOM!!!! No, really!!! What the hell am I doing??” She lowers the paper, puts it down on the table and mouths the words very quietly, staring sadly at me, “I don’t know Kel, nobody knows,” shaking her head from side to side.

Now, the tears are spilling from my worn eyes. I don’t really remember how many times I yelled, “Mom! I ran out of Glitter!” or Mom what am I doing?!” At some point I fell to the ground. I was teetering between laughter and complete guttural sobbing. I managed to crawl at some point to my mom where I lay for I don’t know how long, weeping uncontrollably. Thoughts were racing through my head - You know what? I hate doing these crafts! I don’t ever want to glue another seashell again! Omg, I don’t HAVE to do this. I don’t HAVE to be ‘CRAFTY KELLY’. I can DO anything I want. I can go live anywhere I want, eat what I want, dress how I want, decorate how I want! Say what I want! Go where I want! - Thoughts were racing through my head!

I had finally jumped off the hamster wheel of life and was standing firm with two feet on the ground (well actually my entire body on the ground) and my spirit and body and the universe had connected. My mom and I laughed and cried for it seemed an eternity. It was the most amazing feeling; it was tears of freedom.

It took hours to load everything and set it up the following day at the Festival. I felt like a drowned rat, exhausted and completely over the entire event. I was done and ready to put it behind me. I sat for hours staring at these projects that over the years had help me escape. I realized that these craft projects had served to keep me sane and give me a sense of control over a life of anguish.

I was never so happy for it to finally be over! I was sitting with ‘me’ for the first time in a very long time. It felt great to laugh at my imperfect perfectionism and admit it wasn’t working for me and never did- what a relief! The facade of ‘Crafty Kelly’ and Martha Stewart I had tried to uphold while my kids, my marriage, and my life was falling apart, I was now ready to let go of. My entire alcoholism wasn’t about the alcohol at all. I realized it was about me being okay with me. This was a huge lightbulb moment! I had devalued myself if I didn’t live up to the perfect standards in my mind. I realized all these “things that Kelly does” was the only control I felt I had in a home and life of uncontrollable events and situations. A small crack had begun to open in the armor I had worn for years. While it was a relief to just let go, I now had a visual in my mind of just how far I still had to go to feel whole again. I was fragile in this new found body and mind, but I was excited for the journey, now that I understood it more clearly. I had filled one tiny hole in a body that had thousands of holes needing to be filled with my own self love and acceptance. I began to look at every single thing I touched or thought about and asked myself, “Do you like that?” And if I didn’t, I asked myself, "Well, how can you change it?" Relationships, clothes, food, places, hobbies, EVERYTHING. I was getting to know myself again and learning that this was a process that absolutely could not be rushed.

Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be telling the world how running out of Glitter one night, five years ago in October would be the beginning of finding myself in sobriety. I would say many of us who have endured alcoholism, pain and trauma, don’t even know we are lost until something happens, a shift, a crack in the armor and we begin to find ourselves. It’s a moment of connecting to the true you. What led to this moment of light and clarity is nothing but hysterical at times, but it is also a miracle, and I am so incredibly grateful it happened.

So yes, I get a little choked up remembering the pain and utter desperation that was my life for so long, but I look at my life now and realize change and transformation is possible. My transformation has been slow and gradual and is still continuing. My experiences are what gives me the drive and passion to want to help others in any way possible.

Over the years I have told my Glitter story in hopes of helping other suffering alcoholics. My wish is that you are courageous in facing your fears and that you feel hope. I would encourage you to ask yourself:

Are you living your most authentic life? Are you your true self? Do you know what makes you truly happy? What are you passionate about? What makes you want to get up in the morning and face the day with excitement? What touches your heart?

If you feel you aren’t living your authentic life, I urge you to be vulnerable and take the step to say, “Hey, I need help“ or “I’m really struggling“. As they say, if nothing changes, then nothing changes...

This to me is what being successful in sobriety is all about: the pursuit of happiness, creating the life you desire and helping others to do the same. And above all, I have realized that the process of transformation is a reminder that each of us has the possibility to be reborn. I wish you happiness and joy. Be strong, don’t give up, and fight your way to the light. And when all else fails, throw some GLITTER in the air- you will instantly sparkle!

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