In Focus:

Portraits of
Empowerment
in Recovery

In Focus: Portraits of Empowerment in Recovery

Even as we work to reverse the stigma of addiction in society, battling substance use disorder can persistently internalize these toxic perceptions, even during the recovery process. It can be hard to come to terms with how we view our bodies, and even harder when substance abuse has played a part in changing the way we look, weigh, or how we view ourselves. For many people in early recovery, it can be a challenge to look in the mirror without seeing the person they were before getting clean. For others in recovery, looking in the mirror can be a reminder of just how far they’ve come. Our In Focus: Portraits of Empowerment in Recovery series is a visual representation of the power of recovery, how we see ourselves before and after we get clean, and how we’re all capable of change. With this series, our hope is that we start to bring issues like empowerment, body image, and self-confidence in recovery back in focus.

“Howard Zucker specializes in using photography to enhance body image and self-esteem. Check out his work here at HowardZucker.net”

Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged In Focus

KAYLIN FORSYTHE

What did it feel like to look at yourself in the mirror during active addiction?

During active addiction, when I looked in the mirror I felt terrible. I did not feel confident at all. I just felt very uncomfortable.

How did using affect the way you viewed yourself?

Using affected the way I viewed myself very negatively. I lost all self-confidence while I was using. I would go days without brushing my hair. I would go days without even caring at all what I looked like.

During your time at Recovery Unplugged, was there a moment where you began viewing yourself in a different light?

During my time at Recovery Unplugged, I felt myself getting better each day. Recovery Unplugged saved my life and made me feel good about myself every day for even small accomplishments I was doing.

How did Recovery Unplugged encourage you to love your body more?

Recovery Unplugged encouraged me to love my body more in groups. We would all encourage each other and tell each other nice things about each other. We had some very emotional groups, but in the end it really helped all of us a lot to feel more confident.

Did you experience any emotional women’s groups focused on self image?

While I was at Recovery Unplugged, there were women’s groups and they were very deep. We got into a lot and we all talked about our confidence issues and we lifted each other up a lot.

As a person in recovery, what are the things you do to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with yourself?

As a person in recovery, daily, I do daily affirmations, and I do a gratitude list, and I lift other people up. And in the end, that makes me feel better about myself too. Daily affirmations to me are the sticky notes that I have around my mirror, telling myself that I’m beautiful or that I’ve got this, and to take it one day at a time.

How has recovery impacted your self-image?

Recovery has impacted my self-image 100%. It has helped my social anxiety, which helped me feel more confident. It’s helped the way I view myself, the way I view everything about myself. I still have really hard days and I’m working on it. The farther I get in recovery, the better I start feeling about myself.

Can you explain what happened in the photoshoot? Can you give us a step-by-step of what you did?

In this photoshoot I came in and I had someone do my makeup, and then I went in and met the photographer, and he made me do a lot of different poses. We took a lot of pictures, we took about fifty pictures. And he showed me along the way, during the photoshoot, what the pictures looked like– a lot of the time I said “that’s a terrible picture.” But at the end, when I looked at them, I was genuinely happy in the pictures.

How did you feel, getting your photo taken?

I felt self-conscious, but I also felt good about myself. I’ve gained weight and feel a lot fuller than in active addiction, so it was different. But I feel way better about myself, and I look healthier.

You touched on having gained weight since getting clean. Can you talk about that a little more?

In the beginning of my recovery, I was a lot thinner. Drug use made me really thin, and now that I’m not using drugs any more I look a lot healthier. It’s different. It’s been hard to accept where I am right now with my weight, but my loved ones and my close friends they definitely tell me I look a lot healthier, which makes me feel better about it. After viewing the pictures with Howard, the photographer, a complete stranger– I’ve never met him before– and him pointing out things that, you know, positive things about myself, it made me feel a lot better, and overall was definitely worth it.

Did this photoshoot help you see yourself differently?

This photoshoot definitely helped me view myself differently. The photographer was very nice and pointed out the things that I like about myself, so it was definitely a really good experience.

How do you think this process would help others in recovery?

I think this process would help a lot of others in recovery. By getting their makeup done and feeling good about themselves, seeing the difference while in active addiction and where they are now, and feeling a lot happier. For guys and girls, getting your makeup done or your hair done automatically makes you feel a lot better about yourself, so I think that the photoshoot would be awesome for other people to view themselves differently, to compare themselves from the beginning of active addiction to recovery. It’s definitely a drastic change.

Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged In Focus

In Focus - Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Kaylin Forsythe Recovery Unplugged
IN FOCUS: PORTRAITS OF EMPOWERMENT IN RECOVERY

Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged In Focus

MICHELLE ASPEN

What did it feel like to look at yourself in the mirror during active addiction?

In active addiction, looking at myself was not pleasant. It was really hard to look in the mirror. I made excuses. I made excuses not to look in the mirror because that would mean recognizing what I was doing was wrong. Looking in the mirror during my active addiction was really hard because I had to face reality and what I was doing to myself.

How did using affect the way you viewed yourself?

Using, it was a mask. Using made me oblivious to who Michelle was, who she’d been. It really took a toll on my realm of perspective and it changed who I saw for the most part. Using changed who I saw, changed the face I saw in the mirror. It totally distorted who I was.

During your time at Recovery Unplugged, was there a moment where you began viewing yourself in a different light?

At Recovery Unplugged, you see yourself in a lot of different lights. There are so many moments of clarification that come with the whole process that you wake up every day a new version, and you’re learning new things about yourself. It was pretty awesome.

How did Recovery Unplugged encourage you to love your body more?

Recovery Unplugged sort of made it where there’s no filter, meaning yes, I gained weight. Yes, my look changed for the most part. But it’s a healthier glow. It’s making more out of what you have now, who you represent now, instead of based on what you see in a magazine. This is recovery, and you have to accept that’s where you are.

Can you talk about any specific groups where body image or self image came up?

They were more empowering. The therapists did a lot of self-care, just learning that you are okay in your own skin, and that every one of us is beautiful and just taking it for what it was and running with it.

As a person in recovery, what are the things you do to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with yourself?

Well now, I do everything differently. My son is now with me here in Fort Lauderdale, so I’m a mom again. I am totally occupied doing that. But also, I like to go to the movies, I like to go out to eat. I love things that I was missing out on before. I love the ocean, swimming, meditating, things like that I had totally put on the wayside.

Would you say treating yourself in these ways impact the way you view yourself?

Absolutely because it impacts me, I finally recognize that I need self-care. I need these things in order to function in society. Instead of putting myself on the backburner I’ve been putting myself first, like Recovery Unplugged taught me to do.

How has recovery impacted your self-image?

Recovery has made me see things about myself that I didn’t know was there before. So, things like self love is starting to come naturally for me now, versus before, when I used to have to get gratification from a picture, a photograph. I’m not trying to mock an image anymore. I’m just me. And that’s good enough.

Would you mind taking us step-by-step through the photoshoot and how it made you feel?

I loved it, I loved the photoshoot, because at first it’s almost like coming into Recovery Unplugged. You’re kind of shy and nervous, and you don’t know what to expect. And then, as it progressed I felt pretty, I felt like the attention was on me. I felt center-stage, I guess. And then, when I got into the photography room, the photographer kept saying “Your biggest smile lights up the room,” which was really helpful because it encouraged me to obviously smile. It was very neat to go through, and then looking at the pictures to see the end result was really fun. A year ago if I had seen those pictures, I never would’ve recognized myself.

Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged In Focus

Did this photoshoot help you see yourself differently?

Yeah, I definitely saw good qualities in the girl I looked at on the screen, and I like me now, so it’s really neat to look back.

How do you think this process would help others in recovery?

After today, I think that this could influence others by having this photoshoot, taking a minute for yourself, reflect on the things that you’ve accomplished. Sit where you’re at and be very proud, and I think that it would help others to do the same thing because it feels really good.

In Focus - Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Michelle Aspen Recovery Unplugged
IN FOCUS: PORTRAITS OF EMPOWERMENT IN RECOVERY

Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged In Focus

JEREMY BENGE

What did it feel like to look at yourself in the mirror during active addiction?

It was ugly. I used to wake up in the morning and look at myself and know I looked like death, I felt like death, but as soon as I put one in me I felt like I was God’s gift. It was destructive.

How did using affect the way you viewed yourself?

Using affected everything in my life. So the way that I looked at myself was, I felt, very ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I was nobody. I felt like the using had brought me to the point where I didn’t want to be alive.

During your time at Recovery Unplugged, was there a moment where you began viewing yourself in a different light?

Yes, I came to Recovery Unplugged on April 4 of 2015. And I would say maybe the second week that I was here, things just started to change. The more that I got vulnerable, the more that I opened up, the more that I involved myself, the better I started to feel about Jeremy. Initially when I got here I was worried about everything and everybody else, until I actually looked at myself.

How did Recovery Unplugged encourage you to love your body more?

Recovery Unplugged started helping me with loving myself more by taking us to the gym, we would go to the beach, we were always doing some fun activity, so this allowed me to start taking a look within. The more things we did, the more people that I was around, the more barriers got broke. And the more barriers got broke, the better I became.

How did you look at yourself in the mirror while you were here at Recovery Unplugged?

When I was in Recovery Unplugged and I would look in the mirror, I’d seen somebody different. I’d seen that there was an opportunity, a change. I’d seen myself in the mirror like I could be somebody that I never thought I could be before.

As a person in recovery, what are the things you do to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with yourself?

There’s a lot of different things I do to maintain that healthy relationship. I’m very active in Narcotics Anonymous, I have two children, I have a future wife. I do exactly what they taught me from the beginning. I still do the exact same things. I get up in the morning, I read the “Just for Today.” I’m in contact with my sponsor. I’m very active in the community. I work in the recovery field. Everything that they taught me from the beginning up until today is still the exact same.

How has recovery impacted your self-image?

Recovery has impacted my self image by opening up new doors. At one time when I was insecure and felt like I couldn’t be anybody, today, the doors that have been opened or the gifts of recovery that have come behind it has just been endless. It’s just blessings each day.

Could you walk us through the photoshoot and everything that happened today, including how you felt?

Throughout the photoshoot, the photographer was really nice. He made me feel comfortable. When we were taking different pictures, different poses, he brought the guitar into it. He made me feel really strong. He made me feel very heartfelt, he made me feel very empowered. He did make me feel very empowered.

Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged In Focus

Did this photoshoot help you see yourself differently?

I was nervous at first. I’m still somewhat nervous, but the more I talk the better I feel. The photoshoot made me feel more open. I became vulnerable. They tell us to do things that you don’t want to do. The more that you do things that you don’t want to do, the better you become. It’s all about growth. The photoshoot allowed me to do that today.

How do you think this process would help others in recovery?

This photoshoot could help other people in recovery to become vulnerable. In order to change you have to change everything. And in order to start making those changes, you’ve gotta break down those defenses and barriers. So of course, this photoshoot allowed me to do that, so I know that somebody that’s just coming into recovery is feeling those same types of feelings and emotions. So the way the photoshoot helped me was the same way it could help another individual.

In Focus - Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged
In Focus - Jeremy Benge Recovery Unplugged
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