Moms of Addicts Heal Through Letters
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Moms of Addicts Heal Through Letters


This post was originally published on April 14, 2014.

I’m a big fan of turning anguish into art. Especially when that anguish—and that art—is addiction-related. Think about it; there’s just such an incredible, wide-ranging well of great art and writing out there either created by or about addicts and alcoholics.

Making Pain Art

It’s a longstanding cliche that tortured souls create the coolest shit because they have such a deep-seated reservoir of painful material to consistently draw from. It makes sense in a way and I must admit, I believe that the most powerful kind of work is generally a redemption narrative; sick person making good. A lost soul finally finding herself is so touching, so universal and so powerful.

That’s why I was excited to learn about a new project that benefits both addicts and their families as they attempt to work through, convey and process their grief and pain. Because even though addiction is terribly common and society still sometimes portrays it as glamorous, well, duh—it’s…not. Addiction isn’t pretty or breezy or fun. It’s painful and dark and messy and lonely—for both the addict and her family.

The Letters Project

So I’m a fan of this new Rockville, Maryland-based project called The Letters Project, sponsored by news station WUSA9. The project is a family-driven one that gives mothers of addicts their own dedicated website to write letters that articulate their frustrations, fears, and grievances about their relationships with their sick children.

Carin Miller, whose son is addicted to heroin, wrote, “We need to make sure that this stigma is dropped.” For her, writing a letter for the Letters Project helped her”release some of my feelings onto paper…It’s freeing, and it gave me more strength to continue on with what I had intended, and that was to bring awareness to this disease.”

“When I lost him, I lost part of my heart that will never heal,” wrote another mother.

Other Examples of Healing through Art

Of course, artistic approaches to working with addiction aren’t particularly new. Creative Arts Therapy (CAT), or Expressive Arts Therapy, has been a longstanding therapy tool for recovery from substance abuse. The therapy first evolved back in the ’40s, when psychologists started to learn about their patients’ issues through drawings they’d created. And the website collects addiction- and recovery-related images, donated by artists, that can be used for free by schools, treatment centers, community organizations and more.

Obviously a place to write letters isn’t the same as painting art you can hang on your wall—but in this Postsecret day and age, when it’s no big deal to blog anonymously and reveal your darkest thoughts to strangers all over the world, it’s a form of art that’s powerfully personal and raw.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.