Where Words Meet Addiction: Part 4

By Anna Joranger: Continued from Part 3.

…Falling can be good, like falling out of any bad thing you are going through. Like the leaves falling out of the tree, that means more new ones and a new start will arrive. And when the rain falls it helps new flowers grow. When your fears fall off those sad eyes it’s cleaning out that dark feeling you have.

Maia’s writing workshops with young women recovering from addiction represented a new frontier for both UG and HAS (Healthcare Alternative Systems). While UG teaching artists work daily with hundreds of Chicago youth, the addiction recovery environment was new for the organization. And for HAS, arts programming was a novelty in their addiction recovery program. In September 2011, HAS staff members hosted a training session for UG staff and artists, allowing them to better understand addiction recovery. In October, Maia led a writing and performance workshop for HAS staff to show them how the arts can integrate with recovery. She led another professional development session in May, attended by 16 Urban Gateways teaching artists, on how to work with students who are coping with trauma.

As staff members at both HAS and UG learned about best practices for mixing their methodologies, Maia’s writing workshops expanded and developed. On February 15, Maia began weekly writing workshops with adult women who were also undergoing addiction recovery at HAS. Maia saw around 5-6 women most weeks, sometimes up to 10. The women’s group wrote about the theme of secrets and things that remain hidden in our lives. But they also dealt with many of the same questions as the young women, such as: How do you return from a dark place?

As for the girls, Maia set up a Facebook page in June – “Persephone 2012” – as a forum for writing and images, things that struck her students as applicable to their writing workshops and to their lives. It is intended as a culminating piece for the program, and a continuation. The page contains photos (not of the girls) alongside small vignettes lifted from their work during Maia’s classes, or other descriptions that they create. Example: A photo of a small group walking by a grocery store, and with it, My windy city. Loud, busy, home sweet home. Don’t look the same as when I was 8 years old, but I guess you could have told me I change, too.

Carrie Rosales, Measurement and Documentation Manager at Urban Gateways, collected data on the effectiveness of arts learning on the recovery of participants in the program. The assumption was that through engagement in the arts residency, participants would make noticeable improvements in areas outlined by HAS as being essential to diminishing criminal behavior. The areas are: involvement with others, enjoying strong relationships, learning useful skills, being rewarded for those skills, earning the respect of the community, and confidence, knowledge of self, and a positive outlook. To find out whether or not participants made improvements in these areas, a pre and post survey was distributed and analyzed. In the end, 70 percent of participants showed improvement in the outlined areas. Seventy percent was in fact Urban Gateways’ goal for the year, but it also leaves ample opportunity for improvement – opportunity that both organizations will take to heart.

But it all comes back to the young women whose recovery journeys Maia observed week by week. They were shy and not always eager to share of themselves. Nevertheless, they created art, and the simple act of creating develops an expressive capacity that empowers and encourages them to live in positive ways, with hope:

I want to fly and be able to sleep on a cloud

I want the world to leave their demons and be at peace.

I want to feel the air and hold it in my hand.

I want to help others find their way.

I want to be the star that guides the boat at night.

I want to be the rain that waters your thoughts and sprouts new ideas.

I want to be the music that dolphins sing while they swim.

I want to touch love and happiness.

I want to be the color on a painting.

[Read Parts One, Two, and Three.]