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Call to Participate: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness #AgainstStigma

February 25, 2014 By: Germaine de Larch

I’ve begun a new photographic project inspired by the reaction to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. In my piece about Hoffman’s death, I react to society’s hypocrisy surrounding addiction, mental illness* and vulnerability of any sort.

In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness #AgainstStigma is a call to take the anonymous out of addiction and mental illness. I’d like to begin a movement, centring around a photographic project, where we ‘come out’ as addicts and those living with mental illness.

Why? Because those in active addiction and active mental illness need to have a blueprint of what it looks like to be ‘allowed’ back into society, of what it looks like to live day by day with these diseases. Because being in recovery is one of the bravest things anyone can ever do, and this needs to be celebrated rather than stigmatised. And perhaps this will prevent the completely unnecessary deaths of those whom we know and love who feel that they are alone in their addiction and depression.

I have received interest from numerous people both inside of Johannesburg, South Africa, where I live, but also from people outside of this area. My plan was to take portraits of the people in South Africa but outside of Joburg when I was in their area or they were in mine. But then a friend from Cape Town approached me and suggested she take her own portrait.

The more I think about it, the more this idea appeals to me and to the principle of the project. As someone who takes self-portraits (which is different from a selfie: a selfie is a superficial part of a social media society that lacks integrity or depth), I know that it is one of the most difficult things a person can do. As is being a recovering addict or living with mental illness. As is coming out as an addict or someone who lives with mental illness. I think part of the power of the act of coming out or representing yourself as someone who does not hide their addiction or mental illness is being able to have agency in not only the message of this project, but the image.

So, long story short, this is a call for those who would like to join this project to take their own self-portrait and to submit it, along with the information for the text beneath the photographs. I will then edit the image, only so that it has a similar format to the other images, and post it on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter (see submission details below).

So, please join me in providing a face to the anonymous diseases, in standing against stigma.  We all have addictions, and a lot of us live with mental illness. If you’re in active recovery, whether it be from mental illness or from the addictions of smoking, sugar, over-working or heroin, etc., please take part and please share.

What are the requirements?

  • That you’re a recovering addict** and/or living with mental illness, and not in active addiction** or in any way a victim** of your mental illness*. This project is for people who have overcome or are in the process of overcoming the dysfunction and are stronger for it, who have learned or are learning not only to live with their addictive personalities and mental illness, but who are stronger and more whole than when they first used or became mentally ill.
  • The willingness to have your photograph, your full name and your information about your addiction and/or mental illness published on the internet in various social media forms, to be tagged on Facebook, as well as to have your image and details publicised in the form of a physical exhibition.
  • That you use your full name.

Submission details:

Photo: This project is about the message, not the photograph, so it will only work if all the portraits are in the same format. Sorry to limit your creativity, but if you could keep the photograph setup as close to the ones already online that would be great. I’ll edit if needed. Thanks!
Text: Please fill your details into this format -

My name is ____________. I am a recovering addict (_________ [__ months/years], etc.). I live with mental illness (_________ [_____ months/years*]).
[...] indicates clean time.

* A note on what I mean by mental illness. The word ‘illness’ is something I use for the sake of clarity, to make sure that everyone knows what I am speaking about. So I use the psychiatric term. So whatever your definition and whether you see it as a burden or a gift, what I mean here by ‘mental illness’ is the same thing you mean. I have huge issues with the psychiatric institution and see it as very fraught, and I am not a big fan of the DSM whatever version we're on now. I don't believe in 'diagnosis' and hate how it labels and limits one. I see my 'mental illness' as part of my personality, not a pathology, something that makes me more sensitive and creative than most, which is both beautiful and difficult. Whether you align yourself to addiction as an illness or something that is not pathological, this project is for you, because I would like to put a face on those living outside the boundaries of what most people consider 'normal', and making a success of the daily struggles.

** recovery / active recovery / clean time / active recovery from mental illness / clean time from mental illness: 'Recovery' is not easily definable. I use the terms 'recovery' and 'mental illness' in the way that they are defined by the very, very fraught psychiatric institution. What I mean by 'in recovery' as opposed to 'active addiction' is that the former has taken the steps needed to live with their mental illness/addiction. They are aware that it is a day-to-day struggle and not something that is ever cured. An active addict or someone who is a victim to their mental illness is someone who is waiting to be saved; someone who does not take responsibility for what they are dealing with. And certainly, reaching out for help is taking responsibility. It's the difference between between active, an agent in one's own recovery, and being passive and waiting for a pill/professional/sobriety to save one. What it means for me is the last time my life was completely unmanageable, when I was not functioning, when the depression controlled me instead of the other way around; when I was a victim to it instead of a survivor living with and dealing with it daily. But having said that, it is not all smooth sailing. And not just because I'm an addict and living with mental illness, but because I'm alive ;) There are ups and downs and I have bad days and even relapse in some of my addictions. Or if I don't relapse in my addictions, then I relapse in my addictive thinking and do impulsive, self-destructive and general 'addict' things. What I mean by 'in recovery', therefore, is that people are committed to recovery and that they have taken responsibility for their addiction/mental illness, are not waiting for someone else to save them, but are working, one day at a time (good and bad days) to keep their sobriety and to live more functionally with mental illness. This clarification is under constant revision and has not been expressed very well here. Comments, queries and suggestions are very, very welcome. Let's keep redefining what we live with, by ourselves, for ourselves, instead of having a psychiatric institution tell us what we live with. What it means for me is the last time my life was completely unmanageable, when I was not functioning, when the depression/addiction controlled me instead of the other way around; when I was a victim to it instead of a survivor living with and dealing with it daily. 

Stigma Too Much for #AgainstStigma? Please Participate Anonymously in Writing.
Now a month into the project, I must say that I had absolutely no idea how great the stigma is re addiction and mental illness until I started my In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness. ‪#‎AgainstStigma project. I’m getting quite a bit of feedback that people would love to participate, but that they too did not realise how insidious the stigma was. I’d like to ask that those of you who feel that they cannot participate in this project due to the stigma please inbox or email me ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). I’d like to include your anonymous comments in this project in a piece I’ll be writing along with it.

And remember: this stigma says more about society than it does about you and your ability to participate.

For any queries, debates, additions to my definitions or submissions, please email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To follow this project and to view the photographs, you can follow my wordpress site or ‘like’ my Facebook page, Germaine de Larch Images, or follow my Tumblr.

Germaine de Larch is a writer, artist and artivist living, working and playing in Johannesburg. Germaine is also a recovering addict and lives with mental illness.

In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness. #AgainstStigma. 1.
My name is Germaine de Larch. I am a recovering addict (self-mutilation [7 years], bulimia [13 years], overeating [3 years], co-dependent relationships [3 years], cigarettes [2 months, 10 days]). I live with mental illness* (chronic depression, social phobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder [3 years]).
[...] indicates clean time**.
Self-portrait © Germaine de Larch, 2014

 
 
In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness#AgainstStigma. 2.
My name is Marelise van der Merwe. I am a recovering addict: bulimia [3 years], cigarettes [9 years], compulsive overeating [6 months]. I live with mental illness*: Complex PTSD [ongoing] and a number of anxiety disorders [3 years].
[...] indicates clean time**.
Photo: Self-portrait by Marelise.
 
 
In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness#AgainstStigma. 3.
My name is Paul Strappini. I am a recovering addict: alcohol [11 years], methamphetamine [3 years]. I live with mental illness*: Generalised Anxiety Disorder [15 years].
[...] indicates clean time**.
Photo: Self-portrait by Paul
 
 
In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness #AgainstStigma. 4.
My name is Zunia Boucher-Myers. I am a recovering addict (cigarettes) [13 years], (compulsive overeating) [3 years]. I live with mental illness* (depression) [2 years].
[...] indicates clean time**.
Self-portrait by Zunia.
 
 
Anonymous. 1. #AgainstStigma
 
 
 
In Recovery: The Face of Addiction/Mental Illness #AgainstStigma. 5. 
My name is Airen McClure. I live with mental illness* (chronic depression, anxiety [9 months] and gender dysphoria [one day at a time]).
[...] indicates clean time**.
Self-portrait by Airen.
 
 
Anonymous. 2. #AgainstStigma

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