Telling stories of recovery through art

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

It could be somebody's basement. People are relaxing on a couch; others sit at a table. There's even a foosball table. It is Songwriters' Night, so a band has assembled, and a woman starts singing India Arie's "I Choose."

This is the NAMI Metro Suburban Drop-in Center in Oak Park, 814 Harrison St. Some from the group are preparing for Re:Cover the '20, while others watch. The event, in its second year, allows participants to "break out of the four walls" and encourages the community to join in on what recovery means to them. It takes place this Saturday at Unity Temple.

Participants at the NAMI Drop-in Center live with mental illness, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizoaffective disorder. Some find it hard to hold a job or be widely accepted — even at their churches — but at this center things are different.

"I'm always helping people around here and they always encourage me and make me feel better," said Rosalynn Clark. "I don't know what I'd do without my NAMI family."

Recovery through the arts is specific to the Oak Park Drop-in Center, thanks to program manager Charles Torpe, who has been here for 7½ years. A musician entering addiction recovery nearly 30 years ago, he found replacing the urge to drink or get high with a creative endeavor like making music to be transformative.

"I always seem to gravitate and find a way to bring that element into the work environment as a prevention tool, as a life skills tool and as an experiential education tool," Torpe said.

Now there is a NAMInation group at the drop-in center along with a regular Songwriters' Group and Art Studio. These are opportunities to write and read poetry, create visual art, make music and plan events.

"I love it here because I have so much to give as far as my talent and ability to reach out to people and get along with people," said Lee Shields, who performed at Re:Cover the '19 last January at Unity Temple. Afterward, she felt, "For the first time, it's like fulfilling a purpose in my life."

Besides NAMI participants, Mental Health Awareness Team (MyHAT) of Unity Temple, Addition Recovery Team (ART) of the Township Community Mental Health Board, and Hope for the Day also have participants joining. These individuals present art from the "recovery wisdom tradition," including spoken word, testimonials, visual art and original music or music chosen because it represents something significant in its message. That fills the first hour of this year's Re:Cover the '20.

There's a break for food and signing up for the second half, which kicks off with an improv segment by an OPRF High School comedy group. 

"At the Open Mic we want to encourage anyone to use the metaphor of recovery to talk about anything they want to recover in 2020 and beyond — in their lives, families, schools, communities, country, the planet, etc.," Torpe said.

Not every NAMI participant chooses to perform at Re:Cover. For Clark, a poet, doing Spoken Word at the Drop-in Center has been a growing experience in itself.

"As I do open mics, I become more and more confident," she explained. "I look up and I become more self-assured and people encourage me." Clark also said she's writing more poetry since visiting NAMI. A dozen of her poems have been turned into songs by musicians at the center.

Telling recovery stories through their art at events such as Re:Cover the '20 prompts others to share their experiences and take the next step.

Re:Cover the '20, with emcee Maui Jones from Echo Theater Collective, is Saturday, Jan. 18, 2 to 5 p.m. at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park. Free tickets/more: facebook.com/events/811926219267768/ Questions: torpe@namimetsub.org. More on NAMI, which provides free services: namimetsub.org.

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