Alexandra Sheehan

ARTIST, NEW YORK CITY

"Now I have bad days but that’s okay, the world doesn't end for me anymore on a bad day and honestly if I'm having an off day I go to bed telling myself that tomorrow is another day and I can make it right you know. And that's what happens."

TALKS ADDICTION, SOBRIETY, DEPRESSION & SUICIDE

It is my absolute pleasure to be able to share with you the mind and beauty of my dear friend Alexandra, who also happens to be a woman I find so inspiring. Alexandra's luminous presence is not only infectious to those around her but to me she's a woman who embodies empowerment, strength and independence with such divine feminine grace. To be able to sit beside her as she opens up about her struggle with depression, suicide and drug addiction has been one of the most beautiful and moving displays of vulnerability and strength that I've seen and had the pleasure of experiencing throughout my work.

This conversation has been nothing but compelling, courageous and deeply open and brave. To witness Alexandra come to being the woman who she is today from where she was has been an amazing journey for a friend to follow. I hope this conversation can inspire more women to a place of self acceptance, self forgiveness and self love, to gift ourselves the permission to still see the light and sit beside ourselves through the complicated weavings of life rather than surrender to the pitfalls of self hatred and self blame.

 

I FIND MORNING RITUALS AND HOW PEOPLE START THEIR DAY SO INTERESTING. CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR MORNINGS?

I have a ritual. My morning routine starts with waking up and then I go for a run. Lately I’ve been trying to practice being kinder to my body so I’ve been running 2.5-3 miles instead of an excessive 5 miles like I used to do. I’ll run and then stop and pick up a coffee on my way home and then I’ll drink two tall glasses of water and then jump in the shower. 

I’ll also start my day by writing a gratitude list. This morning I also meditated and said a prayer and I usually don't do all three but today I was feeling really ambitious. With my gratitude practice I usually say it in my head but I found it's so much better when I put it down on paper. So writing a gratitude list and praying - meditating is usually the one I rarely do because I still find it quite hard for me. 

 

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO EAT?

Lately I have been making this really nice breakfast of almond butter, half a banana and blueberries. My other alternative is a hard boiled egg and a handful of arugula and olive oil and sometimes I’ll add some yogurt. I think they're both very balanced meals for after you've worked out. Usually it depends on whether I'm craving sweet or savory. Lunch is usually a salad or vegetable dish and I eat at work and we eat really clean. Dinner is usually all over the place, sometimes I cook beans, spinach, tofu, or a pasta dish. And I allow myself indulgences when I feel.

I get really stressed out when I hear women say things like, oh I eat a cheeseburger once every six months and I'm like, that’s okay but you don't need to make other people feel uncomfortable for eating more than two cheeseburgers a month. I've also been eating fish and steak lately and I go through phases of thinking I would like to eat all vegetarian but sometimes a steak and vegetables sounds really nice for my body so it all depends. I listen to my body a lot now and I noticed that I feel the heaviest when I've had a lot of grains so now protein and vegetables feel gentler and doesn't make me feel super full. I'm not a shy girl, it just depends on my mood. I feel a lobster coming soon.

I FIND THE PRAYER VERY INTERESTING. COULD YOU TALK MORE TO US ABOUT YOUR PRAYER?

I pray to God. I think of that God as my higher power. For me it’s not like any religion or sect, it’s just what I believe to be the higher power in my universe. Today I prayed for all of my loved ones, I said the serenity prayer. Once someone said something really important to me - they taught me the importance of not just saying something but understanding what it means to you. So with my prayer, I think about things that might be causing me anxiety or stressing me out or asking myself things like, what can I accept and what are things I cannot change? Praying to God about things that you want to have strength to change and overcome and today I just prayed to be at ease and be at peace. I mean I don't always pray like a crazy person - sometimes I just pray that things will be okay for tomorrow. I've prayed a lot and I’ve undergone a lot of change in the past year since going sober and so I feel like my prayers have shifted also. Since then I’ve started to learn how to live my life in a happy way and live in this positive realm so now I pray to keep moving forward rather than asking for the strength to not use everyday.

FROM BATTLING WITH ADDICTION TO SOBRIETY, WHAT DID THAT TRANSITION AND EXPERIENCE LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

It was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was miserable. Sometimes I think about my past life before I got sober and yeah it was only a year and six months ago but it was like a whole different me. It’s really hard for me to grasp sometimes that I am the same person. I feel so different in every aspect of my life and I have grown so much and now I have positive problems to deal with - like feeling overwhelmed with joy, and not knowing how to deal with feeling so happy which used to be an extremely uncommon feeling for me before my sobriety. I was raised in chaos and grew up in chaos and so when I grew up, I used addiction to create my own pain and chaos because it was the only way I knew how to live and keep living my life. So taking a step away from that was really big for me.

CAN YOU PINPOINT THE MOMENT IN TIME WHEN YOU HAD THAT SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS THAT LEAD YOU TO MAKING THE DECISION INTO SOBRIETY? WAS IT A HIGH POINT OF ANXIETY OR A LOW POINT IN DEPRESSION THAT DREW YOU?

I’ve definitely been suffering with depression for most of my life and using throughout those years deepened that depression. There was a point in the summer before I got sober where I thought, wow I am going to crash and burn but I never accepted that I might have been a drug addict. That was something where I was like no, that’s not me. I would take naps, wake up and still be high from drugs the next morning then go for a 7 mile run and used that as an excuse thinking, well drug addicts don't go for runs and then make it to work.

My depression started to get quite suicidal and I always had self harm tendencies even from when I was a teenager. Drugs had always made it easy and inhibited me to harm myself. I would have manic and violent episodes and at that time, I was with someone I really loved and things started to become more and more intense with the only difference being that I now had somebody who loved me watching from the sideline. I created this idea in my head when I was once at my lowest that there was absolutely no way I wanted to turn 28 and created this story that I needed to commit suicide before my 28th birthday. I tried one following morning and my partner was at my home and that was when I was admitted into the Bellevue psych ward. When I got out it was two days before my birthday and my arms were all bandaged up and I went to my birthday party and blacked out again within an hour. I woke up the next morning and I tried to slit my wrists and I remember just being so mad because it didn't work. And that anger stemmed from this story I had through my whole entire life thinking, why the world was out to get me? Why is my life so bad? 

 

YOU APPROACHED LIFE IN THE MINDSET OF THE WORLD IS AGAINST ME RATHER THAN SEEING THE WORLD AS AN OKAY PLACE TO BE. THE STORIES WE FORM ARE ALWAYS FABRICATED FROM PAINFUL POINTS OF TRAUMA AND PAIN IN OUR LIVES. WE THEN USE THESE TO FORM CERTAIN BELIEF STRUCTURES THAT ACT AS A GUIDING BLUEPRINT TO WHAT OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD IS AND HOW TO EXPECT LIFE TO TREAT US. I FIND THESE NEURAL PATHWAYS AND BELIEF SYSTEMS COMMON AMONGST MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE ENDURED TRAUMA AND SUFFERING.

A hundred percent. I went through life thinking that I had a shitty life and I was dealt a shitty hand of cards. I blamed ____, ____, and ____ for why I was the way that I was and I had this sad drug addict ego that fed on this story and on itself. Being an addict was the fuel to the fire of my depression and they were best friends and learnt how to work with each other. I wasn't strong enough to see anything else and it was hard because I also became to be so comforted by that pain at the same time.

My partner was the first person in my life who ever suggested I try going sober because nothing else was really working out and it was obviously the only thing in my life I hadn’t tried. At first I was very offended by the idea because I had this picture in my mind that going sober and going to AA programs were for people who were seen and labeled as crack heads etc. I first approached it as going on a little cleanse, just to get my life back in order. Slowly from there it progressed and I became more comfortable and accepting of the idea.

CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE CHANGE IN MENTAL HEALTH FROM LIVING AS A FUNCTIONING ADDICT TO WHO YOU ARE NOW?

I can say I am like an entirely different person than I used to be. I feel like a lot of the past year I felt like a new born baby learning how to do things again and taking on a lot of change. The experience is really hard for me to describe but it felt like there was a version of me that was hidden underneath piles and piles of pain and suffering and now that person gets to live in the light. I have so much clarity and I feel like I live my life with intention. I don't live in fear anymore and now I think the future is so exciting and not that long ago I was someone who didn't want a future. I never planned for it. I lived my life like if I died at any moment it would be okay. I lived my life thinking I could go through it without being a real human who had to participate in the world.

Something I’ve heard often in the program is that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety but it’s connection and I now understand. I have so much clarity and love in my life, I feel so deeply connected to everything. It’s so easy to want to give up on your life when you aren’t connected to the outside world and feel like you don't have anything to keep you here. 

WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD?

I used eat so much and I've had a really hard relationship with food my whole life. When I was a child, I remember my father would mock how much food I would eat and so I learnt really quickly that I was eating too much and I was fat. My grandmother would always say to me, you would be so pretty if only you weren't chubby or if you lost weight. I see now telling a nine year old girl that is absolutely ridiculous. I carried a lot of shame so when I grew up I would eat a lot because I felt bad and then I would binge and now I've let go of a lot of that control. I really don't think too much about it.

The program has this thing called H/A/L/T. Hungry Angry Lonely Tired - all of them being recognizable triggers and it’s something I now think about often. If I'm feeling really edgy it’s like am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Usually it’s hungry or tired and that’s when I start crashing. I think the biggest thing is recognizing that that’s what it is and asking yourself - did I really sleep well the past 3 nights in a row? Have I been working everyday and then seeing my friends every night and overextending myself? And instead of feeling like you’re constantly on the verge of tears, it’s just realizing that you just need to go to bed and get some sleep or have a bath and read. 

HOW HAS YOUR DIET AND THE WAY YOU NOURISH YOUR BODY CHANGED?

I feel intelligent, confident and proud which are all extremely new feelings but physically, I feel so great! Now I sleep like a normal person and I eat like a normal person. I would always be so bloated from the drugs and the drinking and then would abuse my body with extreme exercise. Doing heroin and cocaine and then exercising the way that I did was like signing up to abuse and kill my body. It’s not healthy and it’s insane to think I did it for so many years and didn't sustain any crazy injuries or illnesses. It took me a really long time to learn how to sleep and I lost a lot of weight, then I gained some weight and now I’ve balanced out and it's felt really good. I love my body now, I feel really good.

I started doing yoga once a week about a month ago it has also been great. With my addiction, I learnt a lot of it was dealing with issues around control so for me not only did I have a ritualistic way of doing drugs but I also had a very ritualistic way of exercising and what I would allow myself to do and not do which also extended itself to food. I had all these limitations and restrictions which made me look and feel bad and always made me feel really insecure of my body. I learnt that the mental and the physical go hand in hand and now I feel so at peace in my mind - I pray, I meditate, I listen to others and I try and be of service and that helps me also feel good physically. I feel so good about my body and I'm so proud to be a woman. I'm proud to have things that I used to think of as flaws and that I don't see them that way anymore - I see them as part of me. Now I have bad days but that’s okay, the world doesn't end for me anymore on a bad day and honestly if I'm having an off day I go to bed telling myself that tomorrow is another day and I can make it right you know. And that's what happens. 

 
 
WHAT DEFINES BEAUTY TO YOU?

This morning I did my prayer, meditation and my gratitude list. The studio I work is in Red Hook so I sat on the pier and the last thing I said I was grateful for was that I’ve now become my own dream woman and that is something you always taught me through some really hard times and it’s been really nice to see how I’ve become her. It’s something that I know we all know but it’s something thats really hard to achieve and it really does come from within. Having a sound mind, heart, soul and body and knowing they all compliment each other. True beauty is being kind to yourself and practicing self care and not in terms of doing a face mask but getting to know myself and getting to know the parts of me that I don't love. Accepting the me that I used to be. Seeing who I was and not regretting that. I did for awhile but now I don’t. Self acceptance can give you the greatest form of beauty. 

Words & Photos by Angel
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