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Life & Work with Taylor Redler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Taylor Redler. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
When someone asks me to walk them through my story, my mind instantly starts producing a highlight reel of the highest points and lowest points in my life. I am grateful for the colorful journey I have been blessed with and have decided to find gratitude in the darker moments to be able to help someone walk through there’s. I am many things. I am a combination of different lifetimes, all jumbled into my 27 years on earth. I can label myself in so many ways but have recently tried to look past the labels I have been given, and those I have given myself and just choose to love who I am: me. I am a woman in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, I am an artist, I am a chef, I am a woman with PTSD, I am a friend, sibling, daughter, partner, a victim of physical/emotional/sexual abuse. I am many things, and I used only see the worst in myself: a victim. I am not a victim anymore. I was born in Long Island, NY. My parents had a habit of moving around the east coast in hopes of fresh starts being the answer to issues that were internal. I inherited that geographical change coping skill and continued that pattern until recently. My family moved to Charleston, SC in 2011. I started my senior year in Charleston at Wando High School, and right after graduation moved to Rhode Island to reinvent myself and leave disturbing memories behind me. No matter where I have moved, there I am, still running from the work within myself I needed to do to survive and thrive. 

In Rhode Island, I dove into my then chosen career path being Food & Beverage. A field in which it is normalized to drink after every shift. A culture that was perfect for my addiction to grow at rapid speeds while cosigning my own behavior with the normalization of the drinking culture that lives brightly in the food industry. I trained as a chef, and while cooking in multiple kitchens in the Northeast and then back in Charleston. It was hard to disguise my addiction that was taking over my life, and my imagined culturally expectable “normal” behavior, became very noticeably “abnormal.” I was fired from many jobs and was given many chances to get clean/sober repeatedly. I jumped around within many job fields and side hustles. Scaling from Executive chef to window cleaner at hotels. I thought a new job, new relationships, new therapist, new state, new personality could change me and allow me to become “normal.” I was in deep denial that the only way to create the life I was dreaming of was the horrifying journey of getting sober. My body was shutting down and I had to choose to either give up substances or start planning my funeral. 

I started my journey to recovery in 2015, before then and during reached darkness that few humans will experience in their lifetime. In my active addiction, I experienced homelessness, overdoses, near-death experiences, malnourishment, deep loneliness, and living in a body doctors told me I could not survive in much longer if I did not get sober. I coped with my PTSD with substances, instantly gratifying habits, unhealthy relationships reliving traumatic experiences, and complete dissociation from reality. I would gather a few months of sobriety time here and there and end up relapsing. The many, many relapses I experienced taught me my coping skills were unhealthy and would end up killing me. 

Fast forward to 2018, I was blessed with staying clean/sober for a little over 3 years. I vowed to do things differently after leaving rehab this time and moved into sober living which saved my life. During that time sober, I discovered the key to my recovery was helping other humans struggling with the disease of addiction. After months of volunteer work, I landed a job for that non-profit that saved my life, “Oxford House,Inc.,” where I opened 8 sober living homes in Charleston. I traveled all over SC and surrounding states making sure the sober living homes were functioning within the Oxford House model, opened sober living homes, lobbied with state officials trying to raise money, worked with jails/prisons to help those incarcerated get a second chance at life by helping get them released to treat their disease of addiction. Working for Oxford House was the most inspiring, rewarding, exhausting, exhilarating, monumental, challenging, and emotionally draining time in my life thus far. That job pushed me to challenge myself in ways never had. I made connections with other humans that will live on forever. Some of those connections ended way to short because no matter how hard I fought to save someone, trying to play God, the disease of addiction still took more lives than I could count. 

After my time with oxford, I moved again. Tapping into that geographical change coping skill, only this time in Asheville, NC, where I worked at a Pyramid Healthcare rehab center called “Real Recovery.” While working that job, I enrolled in college with plans of becoming a Trauma Therapist, and at the same time working towards my certification hours to obtain a substance use counseling license. Overeager, and challenging my lack of boundaries again, that period of my life ended with my own recovery becoming fragile leading to a relapse. 

Those jobs made me realize that my exploding empathetic heart was not cut out for the front lines in the war against the opioid epidemic. My lack of boundaries with patients made it extremely difficult to think clearly and logically. My ego kept telling me if I could just figure out exactly how to balance my emotions and boundaries, I would be able to work in the field again. No number of certifications, training courses, experiences, or life-changing mentorships could help my heart separate my job from the delusion that it was my duty to save people. 

While working at “Real Recovery” during COVID, the patients and I did a ton of art therapy, being quarantined together I improvised by offering coping mechanisms that could be explored within the walls of the treatment center. I dove into my creative heritage, channeling the love I used to have for art and creative expression during my time as a chef and back to my teen years where I aspired to be a fashion designer. While in high school, I attended summer courses in NYC with the hopes of going to the Fashion Institute of Technology to become an interior designer. While I told myself I was inspiring the patients to tap into their creative roots and release their pain into art- it felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience encouraging myself into create again. I used the stress at the job as an excuse for my relapse but, it was caused from the core beliefs created from not healing from my traumatic childhood. Which kept showing up in those post-traumatic physical responses I talked about earlier which were constantly activating my nervous system to be in fight or flight. I felt defeated, broken, hopeless, and undeserving of life and used substances again to cope with the suicidal thoughts. 

After a few months of a bad relapse, I went to treatment again in the end of 2020. That treatment center in Florida which was dual diagnosis (addiction and mental health) told me everything I needed to hear. There was no sugar coating, and there was a lot of work I needed to do and action that I have been running away from doing during past clean times. I did not know myself; I did not trust myself, and I did not love myself. I moved back to Charleston and started nannying. I worked odd jobs and after I got off work, I painted. I constantly painted, constantly creating, exercising the first healthy coping skill that I knew to work. Working harder than I ever had on my own recovery, instead of shifting the focus on others intended to distract myself from the work, I started the prolonged process to healing. 

During my time in Asheville, I started selling my art online on the side while working at the treatment center. I had no idea how many people would be interested in purchasing my art but with my lack of self-love, I did not trust that I had what it took to pursue art as a full-time career. The more detached I came from those odd jobs I was pursuing back home in Charleston, the more excited I became about the art I was creating. I started applying for some local markets. After participating in my first local market, I made enough profit to pay rent. I still did not completely dive into creating my small business until I felt I could not juggle both. Odd jobs, and the commission jobs flowing in at speeds I could not have even dreamt of. I took the leap of faith in April 2021 to focus on my art business full time. 

I launched my business “art by taylor redler” and quickly started participating in local markets and creating innovative ideas for products to sell. I started turning my original paintings into textiles and with that fabric crafted apparel, home décor, and accessories that started to bring in a different demographic and a wider range of clientele. 

While this dream was coming to fruition faster than I could have dreamed, guilt set in, while feeling I was not doing enough for a population of people that I made a vow to my myself would be my life’s mission and work. Incorporating my personal recovery stories and helping build awareness to the mental health/recovery population became something that felt like a personal responsibility that I had to incorporate into my small business. My mission is to inspire vulnerability and share the embarrassing human flaws that are not widely talked about, dreaming that I can help people feel less alone. I am working hard to create a platform large enough to raise money to help people that cannot afford treatment to get a full ride and sober living paid for, since our governmental health system is failing those who struggle with mental health disorders and the disease of addiction. The more people share their vulnerable stories, more hope could be built that it is possible to recover. Connection is one of the most crucial factors in recovering from drug addiction. I aim to normalize talking about the darkest thoughts and moments of my addiction journey so that people can feel it’s “normal” to share those thoughts with others before those hopeless feelings arise leaving the lingering thought that the only way out of the pain is suicide or a needle. 

My abstract paintings are coping skills created to be seen in our physical relm, thickly texturized paintings longing for you to run your hands on the emotion that left my body and onto the canvas. As I paint, I enter a meditative journey where I release and recognize the intrusive thoughts that interrupt my artistic flow and process them in a new healthy way. The box I created during my childhood to block out memories, is not accessible while I create my art. I proudly share now that I am in recovery from substance use disorder, I am diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health disorders. My own healing was compromised while working in the mental health field, but now I get to spread awareness through art and give myself grace that I was not meant to be a front-line worker. I was meant to create. 

I put my personal recovery journey into brutally vulnerable essays, and observable art, aiming to inspire viewers to educate themselves on the inner complexity of those who struggle with mental health disorders and the disease of addiction. My artwork is not complete until I do deep heart work and process the thoughts and revelations that were brought to my attention during that meditation. I then put that processing into a biography to share with the reader, offering a thought-provoking story as they make their own personal interpretation of my painting. I learn about myself through art. I want to impact the viewers’ self-discovery, honoring any healing they may need to do within themselves. Or have the viewer walking away from their experience feeling full of self-gratitude for their recalled personal progress with their own struggles. As humans, we all share similar feelings, fears, and core beliefs we have developed throughout our lifetime. I plan on inspiring unity between those individuals drowning and those who can pull them out of the deep end of the pool. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The largest obstacle I have faced so far, which has taught me a huge lesson in every aspect of my life, has been how I process rejection. In the past, I perceived rejection as a personal attack on my character and who I am as a person. I create abstract art which is something that is defiantly a unique form of art that is not widely understood. It took me a while to realize that it does not matter what anyone else thinks of my art, it only matters how I feel and heal from creating. I had to really challenge myself to accept what people think and view of me is none of my business. I had to feel the emotions that crop of with rejection and learn how to separate that feeling from my self-worth. When I first started sharing my art publicly, I was so full of fear that people would find it ridiculous and laughable. To be completely honest, the core belief that (I am not good enough) attached to the feeling of rejection has in some respects taken hold of every dream I have ever had or wanted to pursue. As I face that fear and push through every time, someone has something negative to say or I go through an extended period of not selling anything, I become more confident in my art. The magnetism of letting go of what I will sell, or what people will like has always brought in more sales than the lengthy periods of self-loathing after what I perceive to be “rejection.” 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I love all aspects of art, and I struggle to not start to many projects at once but primarily I create abstract paintings. The entire process is personal from start to finish. My loving partner hand builds the canvases I paint, allowing me to control the desired size and volume. I love using materials that highlight the dense emotion I aim to scream off the canvas. I typically use oil, plaster, concrete stucco, ink, acrylic, sand, and thick-bodied mate mixing mediums. I also embroider some of the canvases with soft yarn to offer the essence of my softness while I display a dark period of my life. I turn those paintings into textiles and create throw pillows, throw blankets, and accessories. I really love the knowledge that those original paintings that have such deep messages attached to them, get the chance to live on in diverse ways, like being worn as textiles. What sets me apart from other artists is the vulnerable essays that live within my paintings. Every painting has its own story and the buyer get to bring home the story that is attached to the art along with the art itself. 

Before we go, is there anything else you can share with us?
My concluding thoughts would have to be urging the reader to be kind. Do not judge a book by its cover. The opioid crisis has taken over our country, and it is rare to go through life not knowing someone who has not been touched by this tragedy. Even though it is hard to help someone in active addiction that has had their body and mind hijacked from the substances they are using, there is still seeds of hope that can be planted, in which you can help prevent another tragedy. The advice I would give anyone who wants to help a loved one who is struggling with a mental health crisis, or active addiction, instead of giving unwarranted advice, educate yourself on the best way to communicate during a crisis. In some cases, all someone may be ready to hear is that they are loved and cared for. Sometimes just knowing they are not alone or judged can help more than offering advice on something you may not be fully educated on. There are plenty of resources available to learn the best way to communicate with someone who is in crisis. If you are unable to connect with someone who specializes in or is certified in crisis intervention, a good place to start is online. One useful resource to have bookmarked if you are put on the spot trying to help someone in crisis: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/supporting-someone-in-a-mental-health-crisis#set-boundaries 

Another tool to have in your tool belt when caring for someone in active addiction is carrying Narcan. That is also a wonderful way to show your loved one that you love them without carrying judgement, simply showing that you care more about their safety than being told they are not actively using. Prevention is not justification. Prevention is not a green light telling your loved one to use freely. Being prepared for the worst can be one of the only ways you can prevent a tragedy from happening before your loved one hears a message of hope. I envision overdose prevention tactics like putting a life jacket on a passenger as the plane you are both on is going down. It might not safe their life, but what if that life jacket helped them from drowning before search and rescue comes in. 

I urge everyone to educate themselves on Narcan (an opioid antagonist that can counter the effects of an overdose). Most states have resources on how to use Narcan on someone showing signs of an overdose, and even resources to connect you to free Narcan and Narcan trainings. Simply caring Narcan in your purse, car, or home can help save someone from a fatal overdose. 

For those living in South Carolina please visit http://naloxonesavessc.org/community-distrubutors/ for information on where you can get free Narcan and free Narcan training. 

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1 Comment

  1. Phyllis

    February 25, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    Amazing I’ve learned so much by reading this article this morning. I can’t believe the things that Taylorhad to endure and how proud I am of her for putting all of her efforts into her artwork and still have the ability to help others.She is truly a survivor and a Warrior

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