The Good Life
with a Southern Drawl

Designer Nicole Paloma’s Struggle With Alcohol

By Amy Bailey — October 08, 2014

By Rebecca Sullivan Balkcom

Photo By Dawn Chapman Whitty

NICOLE PALOMA has had quite the year. After her wildly astounding runway show last October at South Walton Fashion Week, which was met with a standing ovation and left many guests in tears, Paloma was thrust into the “high-highs” of success. Her business took off like wild horses — and so did her drinking. Here’s her story of how getting sober replaced all other goals and everything she had once deemed important took a backseat to this crucial decision.

How did you first start drinking?

The first time I realized I could block emotional pain and constant goings-on in my brain was when I was 15. Having grown up around art, I drew and took photographs, but I found that drinking released a creative edge that now I realize really just quieted my process.

Were you worried that getting sober would affect your creative process as a designer and artist?

My biggest fear was that it was all going to go away once I got sober. The fear of the unknown is the worst, and it’s more the fear of being successful than the fear of failing. I used the excuse of being an “artist” and that I was supposed to be out of control, crazy and erratic. Where I got to with it was that my life and my children became much more important than being a designer. When I came home from treatment, I was making a tee shirt for a friend and I had so much anxiety just being in the space and feeling the moment.

When my creative brain turns on it’s a physical thing and without alcohol I wondered if it would come. I just started putting simple fabric pieces together and it came. The creativity now comes out less frenetically and as more of a flow. I’m learning not to have anxiety about it and trust that those ideas are still going to come.

I needed to make a dress last night and I was tired. That would have been the time that I typically would have broken open a bottle of wine. But I realized I was tired and listened to my body and went to bed. While I was drifting off to sleep, a wonderful idea came to me. I view my creativity as the closest thing that I have to a higher power.

Does it scare you when you have a non-medicated inspiring moment that it will make you want to relapse? Do you feel like those extreme high-highs might be too much to feel and how does it affect your restraint in the creative process?

Mine is more self-conscious. I am not afraid of the feeling as much as what other people are going to think about what I’ve designed. This year’s runway show will be a true test for me.

How did you balance all of that creativity, run a business, attain awards and be an integral part of this community while drinking?

I honestly don’t know. There was a need for me to visibly show everyone and prove that I had it together because inside I was really falling apart. I wanted to hide the mess and show everyone that I had it together so I went OVER the top.

Do you worry at all about living and working in a small community that people will label you?

I cannot worry about that because this is my truth. I think it’s an important part of my recovery to be able to be honest about who I am, and not be more concerned with what people think about me.

How have your friendships changed?

I go out to coffee now rather than wine. I have not yet put myself in a big social scenario, South Walton Fashion Week is going to be hard for me.

What was it like going from treatment back to your beach town and making the immediate transition? How do you apply the principles from treatment into your daily life here?

I surrounded myself with the program. I spent more time on that beach anytime that I started feeling anxious and I would walk for miles. I never did that before. Spiritually I was really connected and protected.

Can our town be an amazing place to be sober?

Same fun party people, but just drinking coffee. This is a really strong community — welcoming and open, not judgmental. I’ve made some incredible friends and had some really cool surprising friendships grow through existing friendships.

How will your show look different this year from last year?

I am giving myself more room to breathe. I’m not whipping the horse. The days that I don’t have the girls, I am going to have to physically leave and come to my work space. January and February of last year were the worst for me. After SWFW 2013, it was almost like I couldn’t handle the success.

That was the moment that I knew I had to go to treatment. I was standing at the cutting table and had a moment of clarity that I was about to flush my entire life down the toilet with alcohol — my girls, my business, my art.

I think that’s the neatest thing about my show this year is that I have put together this conceptual map detailing the past year and that will be the backbone. Everything else I just have to trust will flow.

What tools have you used as a resource to replace the addiction?

My 12-Step Program is essential. Humanity’s biggest fear is being alone and you get into a room with different people who come from all various places, yet you bring up a topic and realize that you all think the same. Going to meetings gets placed first before family or anything else. They say that addiction ends in institutions or death.

Yoga, meditation and exercise are all now aspects of my daily life. The biggest gift has been how present I get to be. The clarity of each moment where I numbed myself for so long before, now its almost like being sober is a drug in and of itself.

Do you ever get bored?

With every artist there is a passion that you can’t feel bliss without desperation. The pendulum has to swing. And recovery is learning how to be calm.

What’s next for you?

Because I went to treatment in March, I didn’t get a Spring/Summer line so my staff scrambled to pull things together. I’m now having a lot of people contact me about one-of-a kind runway pieces, and so everything going down the runway will be for sale.

Since I’ve gotten home, I have readjusted ‘my important things.’ Instead of my designs being first, they have taken seat number 3.

Now sobriety and my children come first. Now when I kiss my kids, I am actually present. To me that is God and to them that is the best gift I could ever give.

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