Over the last several weeks, I've shared on the blog and in various interviews and in-person Q&A sessions that while I knew that I wanted Lifeline to honor the ongoing journey of recovery, I also didn't want Eli's story to be a voyeuristic tale of his descent into darkness. Instead, I wanted it to ultimately be a hopeful story of his climb into the light.
Today, I'm so honored to interview Jillian Bauer-Reese, assistant professor at Temple University and incredibly talented photojournalist whose creative and professional work focuses primarily on life after addiction. Through her photo and audio story series, The Rooms Project, she has brought to life the stories of over 150 people living on the other side of addiction.
A: Welcome, Jill! Tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to launch The Rooms Project.
J: Hello! Jill, here. I’m an assistant professor of journalism at the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University where I teach a course called Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction. My creative work often focuses on substance use, addiction, and recovery, and it's been published by Slate, the Columbia Journalism Review, Poynter, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Billy Penn and the Philadelphia Citizen. Most importantly, I'm a person in long-term recovery, which means I've not used any mind- or mood-altering substances for over five years.
I started The Rooms Project in March 2014 after celebrating my first year of continuous sobriety. Finding recovery was a 12-year process for me that involved a lot of stress, trauma, and physical and emotional "bottoms." When I finally entered the recovery space, I was shocked by the number of people I found there. Many of them (like me), could not on their own stop using substances. It was through access to treatment and connecting with others that they were able to find and maintain their recoveries and become who they are today.
As a photojournalist and humanitarian, I was driven to shift the conversation to show life on the other side of addiction. So I set out to capture the stories of anyone who was willing to share that part of themselves with me. Since starting the project, I've traveled to about half the states in the U.S. and collected about 150 stories. I've been on a bit of a hiatus since my daughter was born (hello, Teddy!), but hope to continue my travels soon.
A: Has this project helped you to maintain your recovery?
J: I'm a firm believer in Johann Hari's theory that the opposite of addiction is connection. This project and all of my other creative pursuits since are centered around connecting with humans affected by addiction and other issues associated with it. Without that connection, my recovery will wither away.
A: One question I love to ask the people I interview: in what ways do you think this project might be a "lifeline" for others?
J: For me to enter recovery, I needed to identify myself with others who were already living life on the other side of addiction. I hope that through this project and others like it, whether those who see my work are in recovery, not in recovery, or questioning their drug and alcohol use, they will find someone like them.
A: Last question: how can those interested find out more about how to get involved in this project?
J: Anyone interested in getting involved in The Rooms Project, my Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction course, or a new venture I'm pursuing this fall to open a community newsroom in Kensington, can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have many things in the works and would love to connect.
A: Thanks so much for stopping by, Jill!
Make sure to check out The Room's Project, where you can read and hear stories about life on the other side of addiction, get involved, donate, and also follow Jill on all her socials.
And if you haven't picked up your copy of Lifeline yet, you can do that here.
Lastly, the June issue of Writing by Heart, my author newsletter, will go out tomorrow and will be chock full of updates and news, including upcoming radio interviews and signing events (maybe even one near you!), so if you haven't signed up for that yet, make sure to do that here.