Up From Addiction: Portraits of Courage

What would you see if you turned addiction upside down? Being a recovering addict yourself, and a woman, what if you captured images of other women who overcame addiction’s clutching demons? You would hope, by telling their stories, you might reach some of the 200,000 women who may die this year from their addiction and remind them there are those who were able to make it to the “other side.”

Introducing Rocio de Alba

Rocio de Alba

I’d like to introduce you to Rocio de Alba and her photo series on women who have been sober for ten years or more, “There is a Crack in Everything.” From the NYT Lens Blog:

“I celebrated nine years of sobriety Dec. 29, 2016. I nurture my recovery like a newborn child. I attend a 12-step program, therapy, and practice unconventional forms of meditation or prayer. People who survive the claws of addiction are considered miracles, because long-term recoveries are rare and addiction is on the rise.”

“For me, it’s clear the odds are against us. Ten years of recovery is nothing compared to the millions who die. It is the sporadic and humble success of my exemplars that inspires my recovery and this project.”

There’s a Crack in Everything

The photos of women and their stories are from her site and the NYT Lens Blog.

B.C.G. in Long Island, N.Y. She has been sober since 2001.

B.C.G: “I tried desperately to drink myself to oblivion daily because I didn’t want to feel all those painful emotions I tried to ignore all my life. People say that addicts are weak and have no willpower. If it were that easy, I’d have been sober 40 years by now, believe me. The truth is choosing sobriety has been the most empowering change I’ve ever made.”

Rocio wants to show an image of each woman that explodes the typical portrayal of addicts as “haggard, perpetually in angst and destitute.” She saw the project as a collaboration and asked each woman to pick the location for the photo shoot.

Rocio: “Some choose a space that brings them peace and comfort. One subject wanted to be photographed in the last place where she woke up from in a drunken stupor.”

Karen, in Forest Hills Park, Queens. She has been sober since 1997.

Karen: “I’ve walked through a death, moves to various states, childbirth, miscarriage, marriage, changing jobs, losing my husband overnight, illness and more. The gift is that I can face adversity head-on and not duck out. I can be present for myself, family and friends. I take responsibility for my actions today. I don’t steal, lie or cheat. I am dependable, reliable and loyal. I am strong and I am courageous.”

Alanna, in Forest Hills, Queens. She has been sober since 2006.

Alanna: “When I started my sober journey I really thought life was over. This was the lie I told myself again and again, as I agonized over what to do about this problem of mine. Ten years later I can tell you that I have found a freedom and happiness that I was unaware existed.”

“An Independent yet Miraculous Transformation”

From the Lens Blog:

Rocio: “The only criterion was they had to be sober for 10 years or more. It seems an independent yet miraculous transformation occurs within each woman during that time period. Not everyone reaches this milestone, and even if they do, without constant vigilance a relapse is almost inevitable — in fact, some of my subjects experienced repeated relapses and near-death experiences before they found solace in recovery.”

Ms. Bailey, in Massachusetts. She has been sober since 1958.

Ms. Bailey: “I’m grateful for everything that has ever happened to me. I have outlived so many dear friends and family members. I caused so much suffering to my children but Lord knows I’ve worked effortlessly to redeem myself to them and so here I am in Massachusetts with my beautiful daughter and her husband taking care of me. We do a lot of damage as addicts, but it’s like I have always said, from scars make stars.”

from Rocio’s site

Art Saves Lives

On the site Art Saves Lives International, Rocio describes how her journey as an artist became an antidote to the emotional turmoil fueling her addiction:

Rocio de Alba, from her site

 

“It wasn’t until I studied Claude Cahun and Nan Goldin’s work that I realized I could use art as a way to overcome personal difficulties. Many times during a panic attack, state of deep depression or a moment of anxiety, I can simply pick up my camera, begin photographing, and it’s almost as if I am transported into a mental state of mind that is soothing and authentic to my inner self.”

Alice. Kew Gardens, Queens. She has been sober since 2002.

Alice: “Whenever I feel overwhelmed in life and I feel like giving up or using, I go for a jog or a walk — rain or shine. All the world’s troubles just seem to melt away.”

“Always a Good Reason…”

I’ve had some experience with addiction; I was a dedicated cigarette smoker for many years of my life. Back then, there was always a good reason to light up. Cigarettes were tightly wrapped around my sense of myself and what I was about. You could even say cigarettes defined me, as any random thought or feeling would call up the desire to reach for the next smoke.

It took years and many, many failed efforts to finally quit. I’m not trying to equate my experience with Rocio or the women she honors in her photographs. I’m just mentioning it here because addiction in one form or another plagues so many people and the ones fortunate to come out the other side have struggled mightily to get there. That’s one reason I find her portraits so rewarding.

Rocio’s Other Art Projects

Rocio has other conceptual photo projects on her site that are worth exploring. Some projects remind me of other photographers who explore identity and stereotype,  Cindy Sherman and Nikki S. Lee, as she inserts herself into her emotionally tinged imagery.

“Falling to Pieces” from her project Girl Anachronism

“Sinking” from Girl Anachronism

Rocio de Alba, from her site

 

“To choose a career as an artist means you are willing to let go of all those fantasies and work from the heart to create work you are proud of and hope that it somehow connects to an audience and maybe even touches someone.”

 

 

More than anything, we humans are a crazy stew of emotions, sometimes pain and all those turbulent feelings, sometimes joy and that lightness of being. That’s why I wanted to end with that photo of Rocio. To remind us that so much is possible if you are “willing to work from the heart to create work you are proud of…”

 

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About Dan Bailes

As a writer and storyteller I explore the creative process and how we understand ourselves and our place in the world. For my blog, The Vision Thing, I write on creativity, innovation and vision – with a focus on pathfinders and the inspirational moment. I also consult and write for clients, play drums in a blues band, practice yoga and enjoy photography.
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3 Responses to Up From Addiction: Portraits of Courage

  1. Sam Bleecker says:

    Glad you’re back at it.
    Actually wondered what had happened to your blog about a month ago and was going to email you to find out why the delay.
    Cheers for another great discovery.

  2. Jill Yescalis says:

    It is interesting to see how the women in these stories, who have come out from beneath the wheel, acknowledge their daily challenges. Given the job of choosing their look and environments for their photos, it is also interesting to see how they now wish to be perceived. Thanks for sharing this on your blog!

  3. Jane Helfrich says:

    Hi Dan,

    I like the piece…thought a lot about my sister Kathleen and what a beauty she really was but she just couldn’t unlock those chains of addiction. It ‘s good to see that many have done so and reclaimed their lives….from ” scars to stars”

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