The Phoenix does not mourn what lies in its ashes; the serpent does not mourn its old skin. (Arthur Frank)
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. (Gnostic Gospel of Thomas)
Service to others, giving back, and carrying a message of hope have long been central themes within recovery mutual aid fellowships. The new recovery advocacy movement is extending these acts of gratitude and service to the larger community. As a result, people in recovery, family members affected by addiction, and family members blessed by the fruits of recovery are finding ways to use their personal talents and resources to carry the recovery message, not just within a small recovery circle, but to all people. Such acts of service are changing public conceptions of addiction and recovery, carrying hope and invitation to those in need of recovery, and sharing lessons drawn from the recovery experience to meet the broader challenges all people face in accepting and rising above their limitations and living an authentic and meaningful life.
Unpaid acts of service by people in recovery are being expressed in innumerable forms. These include acts of volunteerism, philanthropic gifts, and sharing assets more valuable than gold—their stories and their voices. But the giving does not end there. People in recovery are finding creative ways to give back through their own special areas of expertise and interest. Writers like myself are writing. Filmmakers are creating recovery-themed films. Athletes are carrying the recovery message through the arena of sport. Managers and accountants are volunteering to help newly founded recovery community organizations. Carpenters, plumbers, and painters are gifting their crafts to open new recovery community centers and recovery cafes. And artists are telling the recovery story through multiple media. In the coming months, this blog and the recovery advocacy interviews on this site will highlight some of these experiments in giving back.
Douglas Lail recently asked himself two provocative questions: If I am a person in recovery, what precisely has been recovered? How could I best convey the fulfilled promises of recovery to others? To the first question, Douglas concluded upon reflection that he had recovered “a deep and loving relationship with my partner and our families, a network of caring friends, the gift of gratitude, and the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a fulltime artist.” To the second question, he developed the idea of using his talents as a portrait artist to reveal to the world what other people in recovery had recovered. That was the beginning of the Hello, my name is… project.
The mission of the Hello my name is… project is to “paint the light that I see in the mirror as well as the light I see in people in recovery around me. We emerge out of the shadows eager to share this new found hope with others like us. Hello my name is… offers a look at the faces of people who face their greatest fears and reunite with the world.” The portraits Lail creates are made using white charcoal on black paper—conveying the light coming out of darkness theme. The project joins others operating on the premise that the revelation of personal stories can change ourselves and the world.
In addition to the time and talent Douglas is donating, the Hello my name is… project is made possible by people in recovery who volunteer to sit to have their portrait done and who then add a handwritten note expressing what they have gained through the recovery experience. The completed portraits and messages are posted on the internet at the Hello my name is… website and other public forums and are displayed in exhibits at recovery celebration events. Some of first portraits completed can be viewed by clicking here. If you would like to support the Hello my name is… project (e.g., funds to purchase of art materials, exhibit space, and travel expenses), click here.
Douglas Lail is contributing his talents as a portrait artist to a higher calling. What talents and resources do you possess that could be devoted to carrying the message of recovery? Is it time to step out of the shadows?