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CZT Family Tree: Russell McDonald

CZT Family Tree: Russell McDonald

Russell writes..

So, when Julie asked me to do a Zentangle Family Tree Blog for May, I was excited to share my story, as I have always been open about my journey in Recovery.

That being said, I usually introduce myself as “Hello, my name is Russell and I am an alcoholic.” As I write this, May 4, 2022, it has been exactly 1000 days since my last drink. With the struggle of addiction, I’ve learned to identify that I have struggles with other aspects of Me and my life, like mental health disorders. This brings my introduction full circle to why Julie asked me to share, as I was introduced to Zentangle in a Mental Health outpatient program early in my recovery.

My first lesson was with Jody Genovese CZT on October 10th 2019, and I immediately attached onto the Zentangle Method as a way to help me with so many aspects of my life. For example, I am finally “doing” this typing after receiving the request in March… the anxiety of doing an “assignment” has facilitated my ability to procrastinate, hence the last-minute completion of this article. How did I deal with some of that anxiety that I was struggling with, you may ask…? Why, with tangling!

So, the story continues…

Through the guidance and support of Jody, I was encouraged to consider becoming a Certified Zentangle Teacher. For the first six months or so of my Recovery, Thursday morning Zentangle group was THE highlight of my week. And if anyone is looking at the dates in my story, some of you can guess what happened next… the pandemic!

That’s right, good ole’ Covid Pandemic. As the outpatient clinic is a medical facility associated with a large hospital association, restrictions were put in place and precautions were taken to protect all involved; the clients, the facility workers, and the volunteers. Well, one of those restrictions was that volunteers were not allowed into the facility. This drastically affected me, and other clients of the facility also, as our beloved Zentangle teacher freely volunteered her time to bring this amazing method to create art to us.

In the beginning of the pandemic I got a taste of what it was like to lead a class. I was gaining confidence in myself and my abilities, and I “substitute” taught that Thursday morning group for a little while… on a white board nonetheless. Just before Jody’s final lesson at the clinic I had received news that I had received some financial assistance with attending the next Zentangle Certification class, boy was I excited!!! I am so grateful for that assistance, and they know who they are, because it was the next HUGE step, in a series of many, that brought me to where I am today.

Well, once again, we all know what happened… The world shut down! Long story short, I’ve still yet to get to Rhode Island to meet everyone in the CZT family in person, but I attended CZT 36 in Fall of 2020, the first virtual certification conference in Zentangle history, let alone the first one in a year at that point in the pandemic, I believe…. Anyways. What a wonderful experience!


During all this time, I had also been working on other aspects of my recovery, including MBSR training aka meditation certification with UMass medical – coincidence that during my CZT training we first heard about Zentangle inc. possibly working with them. Along with that I was working towards becoming a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate, which would give me the opportunity to work with others in recovery. So, having achieved these certificates, I have somewhat combined them to help others in recovery using the Zentangle Method, as I have, to enrich their lives.

Which brings us to today. Day 1000 of not having a drink, and day 937 of my Zentangle journey (I used an app to figure that out!). Not too long after becoming a CZT, I was having a conversation with Jody. During this conversation she basically blessed me with the opportunity, if it ever arose, to take over the class that she was doing at the Mental Health Clinic. Well, after jumping through all the hoops to become an official hospital volunteer and pandemic restrictions being lifted, that opportunity arose!

On April 5th 2022, after just over two years, it was my honor to bring Zentangle back to that Mental Health Clinic! Full Circle! Giving back what was so freely given to me, thank you Jody, and everyone at the Zentangle, Inc team, has been a crucial part of my recovery.

Along with those experiences over the last two years came the opportunity for me to be involved in a local community center. The hows and what nots of this involvement is circumstantially not super important, what is, is that around Thanksgiving of 2021 I was given the keys to my own space in said community center! This space has become the Bijou Art Room, aka my studio/office. This space has afforded me the opportunity to teach a Monday night class and bring Zentangle to others in the community!

So, ya, that’s my story… I am going to follow this with the actual family tree questions… thanks for listening.

Name: Russell McDonald CZT, CRPA-P (even after a year and a half its still weird to have letters after my name… lol)

CZT #: 36

Hometown: Rotterdam NY USA

Favorite Tangle: I’m a tangleoholic, I can’t have just one!!! Every new tangle I play with becomes my “at that time” favorite!

Favorite place to tangle: At self-help meetings. Another mental health disorder I struggle with, ADD/ADHD. Tangling keeps my hands occupied so that my brain can listen during the meeting… My studio/office, surrounded by my art and student art… in my sketchbook at the park by the light of the street lamp, seriously, … Anywhere!

How I use the Zentangle Method in my life: The story above answers this pretty strongly I feel, but there are some other aspects of the Zentangle Method that I use in my life. The appreciation and gratitude step at the beginning and end is very important, and nice, to me. In my recovery I have become grateful for what I have, and not resentful for what I don’t have. I try to hold onto the appreciation and gratitude that I Invite into my students lives, and my own, and savor the moment…

Through my experience as a CZT, I have learned: Patience, gratitude, appreciation, respect, so many things! Self-respect, courage, admiration; I’ve learned that I can be a leader, that I can inspire others, be a role model. I’ve learned that I am capable of these things!

If I’m not tangling you will find me: all over the place… never a dull moment for me! Fishing, bowling, horseshoes, fireside. Self-help fellowships, working with others, new 7 ½ month old puppy…

Find me on the Zentangle Mosaic App! Username: Russell_McDonaldCZT36 (which reminds me, I should post some recent stuff…..)

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A heartfelt thank you to Russell for sharing his story with us and the entire Zentangle community!

We also want to thank all of those who shared their comments and stories on our blog, My Zentangle Toolbox. We have randomly selected Jane A to receive a Gratitude and Appreciation Zentangle MantraBand! Please send your snail mail address to



  • Russell, thank you for your powerful story. And congratulations on your recovery!

    I just celebrated 30 years of sobriety and Zentangle (CZT19) totally enhanced my recovery. Ihave taught classes to women in recovery and couldn’t count the number of Recovery BB bookmarks I have given to celebrants. So I was very touched by what you wrote. Keep up the good work and continue to pass on these two “gifts” we have been given. Newcomers can so benefit from Zentangle’ s meditative thereaputic effects.
    One day at a time!

    Linda Chik on

  • Congratulations, Russell, on your wonderful accomplishment! Your story is truly inspiring. I really enjoy your Monday evening classes!

    Jen H. on

  • Russ, I couldn’t be more prouder of your last 1000. days. You definitely have a gift that you can be proud of and you are teaching me how to relax. I look forward to Monday nights. I love you with all my soul MOM

    Sheri Lamb on

  • Thanks for your willingness to share your story! You are spreading inspiration! #czt36

    Julie Isaac on

  • Thanks for your willingness to share your story! You are spreading inspiration! #czt36

    Julie Isaac on

  • Thank you dear Russell for not only sharing your story but your amazing Zentangles. Plus a huge congratulations to you. You are an inspiration.

    Hugs from Aus 🤗

    Annie Spinks on

  • Russell, thank you for sharing your incredible journey. 1,000 days of sobriety is to be marveled at.! I applaud you for what you have done for yourself and I am amazed at your give-it-back spirit. Zentangle is a blessing in all our lives. You are a role model for all of us.

    Clara A Brunk on

  • Thank you so much, Russell for sharing your story with such sincerity. I wish you a happy and long CZT life! I’m also happy to see a man of the family :-) as you are very few in comparison to female CZT. I would like the ratio was more balanced.

    Pilar Pulido @zentrarte on

  • Russell it has been my privilege and honor to get to know you and share Zentangle with you. I appreciate the kind words with all of my heart, but YOU did the work my friend. I just made the introduction. God bless you in your continued journey. Only great things to come. I’m coming to one of your classes :o)

    Jody Genovese on

  • Thank you all for the support!

    Russell McDonald on

  • Congrats on your sobriety! It is not an easy task to uphold! I know first hand. I am going on 20 months sober myself. So way to go!! And trying to balance mental issues, another tough act.. I do that every day and if it weren’t for art, I’d be sunk! I’m glad you found tangling as a way to keep your mind still and allow you to focus and find balance, happiness and all the other wonderful things in life it’s allowed you to find instead of what the dark brings! Your art is fantastic. Keep it up, you have so much to offer not just the students you teach, but the world who sees your art! God bless you!!

    Andrea Kine on

  • Namasté dear friend. One day at the time, one stroke at the time. Well done. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Karin Godyns, CZT on

  • Hey Russell, thank you for your story. I have no idea what to write here that hadn’t already been said, or would sound kinda weird. You’re amazing. You show so much strength and I love the way you turn your life despite everything that’s thrown at you. Please never stop tangling – because your art looks amazing, by the way. Especially your Florz and Hollibaugh – but also, please never forget that you are beautiful.


    Luca on

  • Congratulations on your sobriety! And your CXT!! May you continue to find, use and share the tools that have brought you to today, clean and sober. It’s a light like the one you shine now that helps to lead others of us along this journey of life! Zentangle is a fabulous tool to have in our toolboxes, and the community is second to none in kindness. Keep on Tangling!! 👏🏻🤗

    Mari S on

  • Congrats Russell on your endurance and ability to find ways to go forward through your life I’m glad you enjoyed being with Susie to Zentangle with others thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Lisa Hoesing on

  • What courage and strength you have, Russell. Thank you for sharing. All of life’s positive energies were aimed right at you and how wonderful you were able to scoop them up. Keep moving forward with conviction and even more peace. As one who struggles with a mental disorder, Zentangle is a safe haven and as they say, I do take it one day (and one step) at a time.

    Nancy on

  • Russelll, he sentido tus palabras y solo me inspiras valor y respeto, el alcance del método Zentangle no tiene límites, felicitaciones por tus logros y orgullo de que pertenezcas a una comunidad que crece cada día más. Un abrazo infinito.

    Egleé Torres Zuleta on

  • Thanks for sharing Russell. I’m a recovering alcoholic and have 7 years. Congrats on your sobriety. Creativity has saved my life in so many ways. It started with Zentangle and now I have moved into other kinds of art. Zentangle is my first love. Good luck to you!

    Cindy Winsel on

  • Thanks for sharing your story. I am experiencing the sudden onset of a mental health condition in my immediate family and this year I am more in tune to Mental Health Awareness Month than ever before. Hearing people share their personal stories is helping me cope (along with tangling, of course!). Keep up the great work in your recovery and volunteering!

    Ariel on

  • Amazing story/journey Russell ! And congratulations on your 1000 days too. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Juliet on

  • Russell – You are an inspiration!! Thank you for sharing your story.

    I’m not a CZT, just a retired, aging tangler who found that learning and practicing Zentangle kept me sane throughout the pandemic. In addition to appreciation and gratitude, Zentangle has opened me to being proud of my Zentangle drawings and the impact the art form has had on other types of art I work on.

    I encourage you to continue to spread your wings and to be proud of all you have accomplished! I look forward to following your progress.

    Peg Simmons on

  • Russell thank you for sharing your story with us! You are such a power of example of recovery and working a program ! Your ability to share your experience will help many people . I’m so glad I met you and Jody G through the zentangle certification program ! Congrats on having a studio space in the community center and taking over for Jody G in the mental health center !! it’s awesome !!!! JodyL

    Jody Leibrock on

  • What a tremendous story, thank you for sharing Russel

    Ildica Boyd on

  • Thanks for sharing this, Russell. We can never guess the stories that sit behind discovering Zentangle but glad yours led you to Jody and then to certification. Here’s to the next 1000 days.
    All the very best.

    Annie on

  • Congratulations, Russell, on your 1000 day milestone! I can only imagine how hard that journey has been for you, but I’m so glad you found Zentangle when you did, and look where it has led you! I found it in 2018, after the death of my husband. It helped me grieve his death, as well as my son’s unexpected demise last March. I tangle everyday. I am so grateful for the gift of Zentangle, and the amazing people I’ve met, as a result. Especially, all the awesome, inspiring CZTs, like you, whom we get to meet thru the Zentangle Family Tree. I love your tangling style; very bold, confident, and distinctive! Thank you for sharing your amazing journey and awesome accomplishments with all of us! Your students are very lucky to have you in their life!

    Jessica Dykes on

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