Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life



Llano Quemado, New Mexico –   Unable to think of much else since making the decision to go ahead and share my experience, strength and hope.  Have tried to talk myself out of this, but the urge to persist is with me every day now.  Perhaps there might be just one other woman out there struggling during this pandemic, I want her to know that she is not alone!  There are sisters all over the world who share her experience.  There is no greater understanding than that of women in recovery – a strong life-long bond…..light at the end of that long and very dark tunnel….each day is a New Beginning. 

Thirty-five years ago there were treatment centers, group AA meetings, one on one
sponsor support.  Help was available 24/7.  Those support systems have
changed, broken down.  Am certain that chat rooms, Zoom meetings, texting and messages to sponsors, phone calls are replacements for the old ways in order to maintain social distancing.  Could these few chapters of Word Paintings be helpful?  This is my way to pay it forward and thank all those generous spirits who shared their stories with me so long ago.   

Santa Fe, 1978 – There was that first day when I knew alcohol had me and, even though I tried mightily to give it up every hour of every day, I kept going back for more.  My second husband was leaving for work.  I stopped him at the front door.  “I have a problem.  I can’t stop drinking. Please help me.”  He looked at his watch and said he didn’t want to be late for school.  Prior to this revelation I had begged him to go into counseling with me but he refused.  That night he came home with a special gift – a vintage bottle of Chivas Regal.  A stark realization that this battle was mine alone.  It took six years of being “out there” before I surrendered and asked (begged) for the help I needed.

In the beginning of our marriage life was great – we were a happy family!  Ernie had some serious surgery sometimes in the late seventies and developed episodes of extreme paranoia.  At the end there were loaded rifles in every room in the house and a revolver under Ernie’s pillow.  Tensions ran high; sensing danger, I knew it was the end. A long, long and very sad tale. Life took over and I needed to take my children to a safer place. We moved to a rented house nearer to their schools.  As much as we tried to make the best of this time – it was dark and scary for all of us.  A divorce did nothing to relieve the anger and bitterness of our situation.   As much as I tried I could not stop drinking….if anything our problems intensified the situation.

I have a metaphor for marriage – it is a large honeymoon suitcase.  Before embarking on Life’s journey together, the groom packs all his experiences and emotional baggage and the bride does the same.  Without realizing it, all their damaged parts become one big weedy tangle of unresolved issues.  Both Ernie and I were emotionally damaged people.  If we could have had an opportunity to sit down face to face with a counselor prior to our marriage to share the unvarnished truth of our childhood lives  (Truth and Reconciliation) we would have avoided marriage and just stayed the best of friends.  Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?  Ah, romance….divorce.

Thus began my search for sanity.  Once I admitted to having a problem, I tried everything to make life better for us.  Denial was so strong – I thought Life was the problem. If only I could make things right. Counselors, astrologers, tarot readers and eventually Ernest Holmes’ Church of Religious Science were little steps.  Six years of turmoil and confusion….always searching for the missing parts of me.  It honestly never occurred to me that drinking was my problem – even during my childhood alcohol was essential to any and all happy times.   Drinking no longer me happy – I was miserable – sick and tired!  Denial is not a river in Egypt!!!

Sadly I couldn’t keep anything together.  Promises to  do better, be better and stop my destructive behavior never seemed to produce a happy ending.  Absolutely everything fell apart, including my little family.  Many mishaps and adventures during those “lost” years.  Truth is they were never lost – they were being lived to the fullest while drinking.  Many paintings, some shows, a few workshops – oh, not to be forgotten is my brief marriage to a genial fellow I met at church! He turned out to be a Dateline Mystery Man with a huge secret suitcase full of darkness  We were drinking buddies.

Truchas, New Mexico – 1983 -There are no accidents! We moved to the horse ranch in Truchas. The marriage was irrelevant, the universe conspired to bring me to this place of healing – I never would have found it alone. This scary relationship was my first encounter with “rigorous honesty”.  One morning I looked at this stranger and said, “Oh my God, you are my father!”  It was time for me to do “the work”!  From then on I decided to do whatever it would take to live life without alcohol.  I’ve read that once one makes a decision, the Universe supports and empowers that action. It has always been my belief that sobriety is my spiritual journey.  Life in that mountain place was my true New Beginning.  Living in nature began my healing process….a very long and winding road.  Hard work, serious doubts – one boulder at a time…