A combination of depression and opioid addiction had Christine feeling like she was “twisting and turning, going round and round.”
After seeking treatment at CAMH, Christine expressed that feeling through photography. Her image of the stark outline of an old tree on a bleak winter’s day was featured in PhotoVoice – a photography exhibit sponsored by CAMH and held at Artscape Youngplace.
Christine and several other clients in CAMH’s Addiction Medicine Program were loaned small Nikon “Coolpix” cameras and given a mission to evoke their recovery journeys in words and photos.
“I know from personal experience that having a clear task and framework can inspire creativity,” says CAMH Patient Experience Officer Sean Patenaude, who facilitated PhotoVoice with CAMH Occupational Therapist Nicole Bartlett and Registered Nurse Paul Koniec. “Our clients really took their mission seriously. They brought a lot of passion and artistry to it,” says Sean. The exhibit – Into the Light – was also supported by the CAMH Foundation’s Gifts of Light program and Downtown Camera.
We spoke to Christine to find out more about her recovery and how photography is giving her a new voice -- and a path towards peace.
Can you tell us more about your photo of the tree and how it relates to your recovery?
I found this old tree in a cemetery, and I was experimenting with the “fish eye” option on the camera. The effect reminded me of the feeling of addiction, of going around in circles. That’s how I felt when I came to CAMH last December to get help. I was dealing with depression and an opioid addiction. Each day was a rollercoaster to feed my addiction. I need to remember those feelings because I don’t want to go there again.
In another photo, you describe yourself today as a “work in progress.”
I grew up in the area near CAMH’s Queen Street site. I was walking along Ossington Avenue recently and I noticed the mannequin in the window of a hair salon. She is under the hair dryer, so she is a work in progress. There is also a construction pole outside – part of a huge construction project nearby. So that feeling of “under construction” was meaningful to me. Some of the other photos in my exhibit also speak to the fact that I know I will have rough days and better days in my recovery – some days you are fighting a lot harder not to relapse.
“A work in progress”
Tell us about the exhibit at Artscape Youngplace on Shaw Street – how did people react?
There were a lot of people at the opening. They liked the stories that we were telling through our photography. I was really happy to see a friend from my past. He was my Sensei, or mentor, when I was studying martial arts including Karate and kick-boxing. He told me he was proud that I had come to CAMH to get treatment. He said I was always welcome back at the martial arts program – and that I could always reach out to him if I needed someone to talk to.
You registered with CAMH’s Addiction Medicine Service a few months ago. Can you describe where you are at now with your treatment?
The new Day Detox program at CAMH was really helpful to address the addiction issue. I had originally been prescribed opioids by a physician for a back problem years ago, and then my use escalated. You develop a tolerance and then you need more. I was able to keep it a secret and continue working. But I knew I was in trouble this past holiday season when I almost missed a family event that my sister was hosting. I was a mess and I knew I needed help. The CAMH Addiction Medicine Service helped me with my medications, both to reduce cravings for opioids and also to be stable on medication for depression. I was coming to CAMH weekly, also working on being aware of thoughts and emotions each day, and using strategies to cope with them. I visit CAMH once a month now as an outpatient. The PhotoVoice project has also been a great way to get out there each day and stay well and focused, and not use.
Your photography exhibit shows your recovery journey going full circle in a clockwise pattern, and the final image is a lantern.
I was at a pioneer exhibit just outside James Gardens in Toronto and I came into a room and saw this old-fashioned lantern. It reminded me of my goal of my recovery – coming into the light and finding peace. My boyfriend and my son have been really supportive all the way through. For the past few years I have been doing some assembly work for different companies through an employment agency but I am looking at ways to use my culinary training for future job opportunities. PhotoVoice helped me remind myself of some of the places I have been in my life, and where I want to go.
Published May 5, 2017
“I will continue my journey to obtain peace.”