Through this long-term project I reveal a distinct interpretation of the "female addict” archetype. My portraits challenge societal personifications of these women as haggard, in angst, and destitute -attributes ubiquitous in pop-culture and documentary photography. My intention is not to minimize statistics estimating 200,000 American women will either die from complications of addiction or face incarceration. And no deficit exists of photographers exploring these devastating narratives with stunningly beautiful images. However, as a recovering alcoholic, I propose these documentaions perpetuate public opinion that substance abuse is an inherently hopeless situation. By capturing uplifting images of women in what is define as “long-term recovery,” I celebrate the concept that successful sobriety is achievable -despite the odds against us. All women volunteer their stories, portrait sit-ins, and have accomplished a minimum of ten years free from substance abuse. Some attend twelve-step programs so adhering to the code of eithics towards anonymity was crucial. I carefully select figures from various backgrounds, race, and economic statuses to convey a sense of unity.
Altough addiction has finally trickled down to main stream media, sadly prior methodology was barbaric. In early twentieth century, women were publicly shamed, disregarded by doctors, often abandoned by their families, and forgotten in insane asylums without a humane plan of rehabilitation. Today legislatures redefining addiction from “lack of will power” to an official medical condition exist. Proactive endeavors by various innovative politicians successfully allocate Federal funds towards prevention and treatment, which subsequently decrease startling statistics of overdose related deaths.
Several women in this series, myself included, recovered as a direct result of these laws. We want to celebrate and inform all women inflicted by addiction that long-term sobriety is achievable. That is not to say we no longer suffer from hardships or ignorantly allege this lifestyle is effortless. We merely want to reach a broader audience of women with the hope they will seek help. Death by addiction does not have to define us. And the strength, honor, dignity, and perseverance of my exemplars are surviving manifestations.
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Sharon, Forest Hills, Queens. Sober Since 2003
“I 'USED' to live; and LIVED to 'use.' I couldn’t envision my life without drugs and alcohol, even after my baby was born. This was almost 30 years ago. After fifteen years sober, I relapsed on pain medication. That was the beginning of my opioid addiction and it took time before I got help again. It took time but I went back to living a sober life. This coming August I'll have 14 years back. These years of sobriety have been a gift.”
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Ms. Bailey, in Massachusetts. She has been sober since 1958.
“From what I understand, there are two other women in the U.S. that have been sober for as long as I have been. I’m grateful for everything that has ever happened to me. I caused so much suffering to my children but Lord knows I’ve worked effortlessly to redeem myself to them. We do a lot of damage as addicts, but it’s like I have always said, from scars make stars.”
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Sara, Glendale, Queens. Sober since 2005
”I drank alcoholically from 11 to 22. When I came to AA, I realized I drank half of my life away. Not many things scare me, but the fact that I am capable of being that person once, means I can be that person again. That is something I can’t allow.”
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B.C.G., Long Island. Sober Since 2001
“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.”
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M.B.M, Quincy Massachusetts. Sober since 2008
"My addiction felt like an emotional prison. I finally realized I needed help after a family member took a photo of me and showed it to me. I could not recognize myself! The truth was in front of me and I could no longer hide in denial. I knew I 'hit rock bottom.' I remind myself that life is meant to be lived. And so I do my best to experience as many things as I can. I am a free woman today.“
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M.F.S., Bayville, Nassau County, New York. Sober since 2000 “During the last few months of my drug abuse, not enough showers would cleanse the feeling of disgust I felt about who I had become. I’d be in the shower scrubbing like a mad woman. One day I broke down in the shower. I didn’t know why, I can only assume it was a feeling of enlightenment. I am one of the lucky ones. Most of my friends are either dead or still living in the streets.”
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Diane T., Jamaica Quee. Sober since 1991
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Karen, Pennsylvania. Sober since 1997 “I’ve walked through a death, moved 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. There’s nothing that I could possibly go through that drinking won’t make worse. 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.”
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Alanna, Forest Hills, Queens. Sober since 2006 “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.”
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D.J.R., Manhattan. Sober since 1982
“Realizing my call to ministry during chemotherapy. Going to seminary and ordination. Developing a career in interfaith ministry service. Continuing to deal with inner demons. Becoming a ceramicist, Reiki master, sound healer and spiritual coach. Being healthy, content and present. Accepting being 15 pounds overweight. Finding peace and balance in being present to my needs. None of this is possible if I were not sober.”
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Izabella, Park Slope, Brooklyn. Sober Since 2005 "I can't say that I had a horrific upbringing. No one in my family has addiction problems. I attended an all girls’ Catholic school from elementary all the way through high school. My folks are not rich but they do really well financially. Early on, I suffered from migraines and was given a prescription and I simply took to it like bees on honey. I was really young and no one suspected a thing. I was just a teenager when I began using heavily. It wasn't until I was caught stealing prescription pads from my doctor that I was caught and arrested. My parents forced me to attend rehab and I kept running away. I was so afraid of the label 'addict' but no matter what lies I told myself there was no other way to describe the crazy life I had chosen. There are more young people getting sober today. We don't have to suffer the horrific 'bottoms' a lot of the elder women addicts suffered before. There is so much help and awareness. The most difficult part is to actually want the help."
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Teuta, Middle Village,Queens. Sober since 2002
"I remember when alcohol stopped working for me. I woke-up from a night of debauchery and spent most of the day in bed anxious for the night to arrive. I bought some beer and finished a six-pack and didn’t feel a thing! I began my sober life not so long after that horrible night. Today I gained the love and respect of my family. Some of the most precious things I own are these Muslim Baltic Amber Prayer Beads that have been in my family for generations. These beads remind me how close I came to loosing my life."
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Robin, The Bronx. Sober since 2000 “My mother was an alcoholic who committed suicide when I was 6 years old. Long into recovery, I refused to even allow myself to dream of having children, but four years ago I met a man at a meeting and we are now parents to a 21-month daughter and a 5-month-old son. The biggest gift of my life is the opportunity to be a sober mother.”
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Alice, Glendale, Queens. Sober since 2002 "Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the problems of everyday life, I go for a long walk in a wooded area. Being around nature energizes me and all the world's troubles melt away. For me, sobriety didn't erase future hardships. But I do know I can overcome them without a drink or a drug. That's priceless to me."
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G.A., Kew Gardens, Queens. Sober since 2004
“I surround myself with the word ‘faith,’ that’s even my dog’s name. It’s what I live by today. So much has happened to me as a result of my drinking and all along what I discovered is that with faith, anything is possible.”
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Laurie, Howard Beach, Queens. Sober since 2004
“The ‘footprints’ prayer was the opening of my heart to God. During a time in early sobriety, when I felt I was hanging on by my fingertips, someone sent that prayer to me and it was then I realized that there had been one set of footprints in the sand and God was carrying me. I still feel that way today, during the darkest times, times of loss and sadness, I know I am being carried.”
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Deborah, Astoria, Queens. Sober since 1999 “I hated washing dishes as a kid. Now though, after all these years of being sober I actually find dish washing extremely meditational. If you told me 17 years ago that all the crises in my life were created by my own doing, I’d have punch you in the throat. I'm glad I can find peace in the ‘everyday' things."
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Amber, Jackson Heights,Queens. Sober since 2006 “When the rain washes you clean, you'll know" - Stevie nicks
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Jeanne, in Garrison upstate New York. Sober since 2007 “The most important aspect of our program is the network of women I can call. I don’t think I could have made it through my first year without their support.”
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Christine, Forest Hills, Queens. Sober since 1996 “One day in 1996 was the first day I committed to not drink, one day at a time, no matter what. That was the day that I let hope slip back into my heart.”
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Mel,Breakneck Ridge, New York. Sober since 2003 “There’s a quote from our 12-step program that I say to myself over and over in troubled times: ‘My roots grasped new soil.’ I define it as the foundation of my sobriety. If I don’t have a strong foundation on my sober practices and rituals, my new and wonderful life will crumble.”
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Bridget, Flushing Meadows Park. Sober since 2001 "I never thought I would live to see another day, least of all sit on the grass under a sunny day enjoying the breeze. That’s a life I want to wake-up to today."
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New York Times Lens Publication - Click HERE to read full article -