Dissonance Collaborates with "Passenger Recovery" in Detroit

The two nonprofits look to help build a national network of artist-support organizations

One of our dreams at Dissonance is to establish a national network of like-minded organizations committed to helping artists maintain wellness, share their experiences with mental health and addiction recovery, and advocate for others. 

We are doing that work in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and, to some degree, in greater Minnesota. Now, we are looking to collaborate with other individuals and organizations pursuing similar missions.

One such organization is Passenger Recovery, a nonprofit founded by Christopher Tait, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six. We met with Chris when his band's tour brought him to St. Paul for a recent show (opened by our friend Mark Mallman) at the venerable Turf Club. 

Sober Green Room Now Available in Twin Cities, Detroit

We whisked Chris away from the venue for a sober green room experience at the home of Jordan Hansen, a Dissonance supporter and blogger. We were actually testing out Chris's own idea. Passenger Recovery has a dedicated green-room space in downtown Detroit, available to any sober touring artist. After talking to Chris, we have decided to begin offering the same to artists traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul, using a variety of spaces available through our local network. Chris had been on the road for a couple of weeks when we met, and he noted -- as others have to him -- how wonderful it was to get away from the van and the venue for a refreshing wellness break. 

New Tool to Find Support Meetings on the Road

For us, the time with Chris also provided an opportunity to discuss Passenger Recovery's new support-meeting finder called Compass. It's an innovative, GPS-enabled tool to help traveling artists locate Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Refuge Recovery (Buddhist-inspired) support meetings. The Compass database includes thousands of individual meetings, is growing every day, and likely will be expanded to include other types of mutual aid meetings as well. We’re grateful that Chris and his partner -- Electric Six bassist Matthew Tompkins -- did us the favor of making Minneapolis-St. Paul the second metro area to get populated, after Detroit. Check out the beta version of the tool and find a meeting near you, wherever you are.

On our Resources-Tools web page, we now have a link to Compass. The page also includes links for artists to request sober green rooms through us for Minneapolis-St. Paul and through Passenger Recovery for Detroit.

As we think about our dream of establishing a national network of organizations like ours, the immediate aim is to work with Passenger Recovery to create a northern corridor of artist support from Detroit to Minneapolis. We are now seeking like-minded organizations in Milwaukee and Chicago to fill in the major gaps. 

We are also beginning to establish relationships with other more far-flung organizations like the SIMS Foundation in Austin, Texas, and the BTD Foundation in New Orleans. If you are involved in such an organization, or know others who are, please contact us.  Let's build this national network/collective/community together.

Don’t die. Be Kind. Be Easy. What’s Next?

By Carl Atiya Swanson

Feb. 7, 2008.

I wrote this for the 10-year anniversary of leaving treatment. It's been just over a decade now since I began moving through life without alcohol or other drugs.

I had been trying to put something down about the work and the process, but mostly I started thinking about people who have made it possible, song lyrics and riffs, and weird quotes and phrases that have run through my head in doing the work.

Don’t die.

Thanks to Stacy, Rosanne, Mark, Karen, Ted, JoAnn, Hannah, Bekah, Kathy and Doug ... for making sure I didn't die. Sadly, others did along the way, and I remember their names: Amanda, Omar, Dan.

“I'm an alcoholic. I don't have one drink. I don't understand people who have one drink. I don't understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don't understand people who say they've had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this?”
– Leo McGarry, The West Wing

There’s always work to do. I've had an enormous amount of privilege in my sobriety and recovery, starting with the fact that I got to go to treatment and access the health care I needed. I also come from an educated family and have degrees myself. I have people who loved and continue to love and support me. I have had jobs and homes to go to. I have the ability to choose to leave triggering locations; I haven't depended on being in a bar for work. I have choices about meetings to attend and resources and networks to help me build connections and social capital. To be sober is to be continually humbled and compassionate, to be deeply grateful.

Be kind.

Thanks to Natalie, Colin, Lizzie, Eric, Kristina, Shawna, Brian, Heidi, Karen, Kathleen, Alexandra, Chavis, Chris, Dana, Brandon, Laura, Molly, Andy, Noah, Nikki, Michele, Naomi, Dominic, Daniel, Jun-Li, Peter, Sam, John, Caly, Dennis, Zaraawar, Nancy, Caroline, Adia, Anna, Susan, Ashley, Lindsay, Brian, Jamie, Erica, Danielle, Sarah, Jarell, Cary, Cole, Brandon, Lauren, Pa, Naaima, Josh, Kat, Matt, Ashley, Sarah, David, Ali, Jeremiah and Katy  .... for giving me work, trusting and challenging me, and opening up new possibilities.

“But there are hundreds of ways
To get through the days
There are hundreds of ways
Now you just find one.”

– Conor Oberst, Hundreds of Ways

My aunt once asked me what I put my faith in, if not God. I told her I put my faith in people. “Good Luck with that,” she said. But that’s where faith lives for me—in our capacity for wonder and creation, in our curiosity and imagination. I know I wouldn’t have made it through my youth without being an artist, and I wouldn’t be alive now without believing in others, in all of us. That conviction, and the abilities art fostered to hold conflicting ideas, process ambiguity and open myself to collaboration, contradiction and the messy nature of things—that saved me. I wouldn’t be alive without saying yes to people and feeling the joy of what we can do together.

Be easy.

Thanks to Jacob, Amy, Jake, Jayne, Jeremey, Dianne, Alexis, Carly, Laura, Blake, Hannah, Mason, Heidi, Lisa, Russ, Eric, Rachel, Tanner, Emily, Christina, Foster, Nick, Andrea, Ben, Kyle, Molly, Leslie, Jamie, Betz, Erik, Erik, Erik, Ali, Tom, Dom, Mike, Mischa, Stephen, Colin, Alexei, Stephen, Joe, Bobby, Graham, Lindsy, Scott, K. Alex, Gigi, Susannah, Jay, Joey, Pete, Janey, Christian, Johnny, Molly, Jeremy, Chastity, Will, Brian, Sam, Chantal, Sarah, Levi, Seth, Brent, Tim, Bethany and Jenny ... for letting me create, and helping you create, things we enjoy and find meaningful. Thanks for making life interesting.

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” – Miles Davis

It takes a lifetime to become ourselves, which is what I get to pursue now. It takes the support and connection of others I have found, or who have found me—friends who walk similar paths, who go to meetings, who say the Serenity Prayer, who are making it work because they work it. It takes all the people named here, as well as all the people not named who have shaped the way and lit the path knowingly or unknowingly. I am so grateful for you, your love and what is to come. Be in touch.

What’s next?

Carl Atiya Swanson is a Dissonance Board Member.

Rediscovering an Artistic Life

By Roger P. Watts

“You ought to write a book,” is something I’ve been told most of my adult life. That’s because many people who have known me through the years have found that I have lived an interesting life full of stories that have generated both laughs and tears.

In fact, you can easily separate the two halves of my life by one day: December 19, 1987. That was the day that I didn’t drink or take any drugs for the first time in 21 years.

I began recovery as most people do with a shudder and a lot of apprehension. But that’s a story better saved for another time. For now, it is important just to say that this day was a turning point for me in my life, and I have never looked back on any time before that day with nostalgia or yearning for “the good ole days.”

Early recovery took me into a new career from the photojournalism and editing work I had been doing for a decade. I began my work in the addiction treatment field only a few months after getting sober. From that point until 2012, I worked as a front-line counselor for a variety of clinics from the East Coast to the Midwest.

But, that career is not what brings me to Dissonance.

In 2012, two significant things happened to enhance the quality of my life. I received a PhD in psychology that year and began my first university teaching assignment. But, I also reprised my earlier work as a photographer, and I have been making documentary photographs ever since.

Today, I both teach and make photographs. The teaching is also better discussed on another day. For this post, I want to talk about my artistic work history and the meaning it has in my life.

Photography was always a hobby of mine, starting in my youth as an assistant at a tiny studio on the south shore of Boston. I loved the idea of capturing images and found, through Al Davidson’s studio, the chance to make interesting and, it turned out, high-pressure photos. I became a wedding photographer for his studio and applied what he taught me about how to capture the visual memory of a bride’s biggest day. I did that throughout my senior year at college and loved just about every minute of the 40-or-so weddings I photographed.

But, I was also imbued in that year--the crucible year of 1969--with the juvenile idea that armed with a college degree I ought not “settle” for just being a photographer the rest of my life. So, I stopped taking photographs and entered the business world.

I would not pick up another camera until 12 years later! After losing the election of 1980 to Ronald Reagan, many of us who worked in the White House (I was a “press advance man” for President Carter) found ourselves out of luck and out of work. With my addiction raging at the time, I one day imagined I would take photographs of the first launch of the space shuttle Columbia. To a drug addict, this was the most reasonable thing to think -- that without gear or experience, I could do such a thing. Undaunted, I borrowed a camera, raced to Cape Canaveral on my motorcycle, shot a few rolls of Kodachrome, and found in one of my frames a picture that ended up in Newsweek magazine. At that moment, I was of the honest and deep yet delusional belief that I was about to become the world's greatest photojournalist!

Soon, of course, I found myself bartending and driving a taxi in Washington D.C., getting politicians loaded at an Irish bar, or ferrying patrons to and from the very White House where I had a security pass only months before.

Yet, despite the setbacks of being a rookie in the pressurized world of Washington photojournalism, I didn’t drown, but kept my head above the tide and became, by 1985, fairly well established with a fledgling role as a sometimes-contract photographer for the now-defunct Gamma Liaison Photo Agency out of Paris. But, still grandiose and fueled daily by alcohol and other drugs, I thought it a good idea to drop all that and become an editor with a national news weekly in Florida. It was there that I worked when I crashed my drug-addled life on that fateful day in 1987.

Fast forward to 2012. Having not shot any photos for 25 years, I decided to try my hand again at photography as a way to interpret my world for others and have a meaningful artistic life.

The first thing I did after buying a camera was search for a subject. Right away, I found that a local theater in Minneapolis, the oldest continuously operating theater in the Twin Cities, needed someone to shoot production stills for publicity and the theater’s archive. To this day, after volunteering to photograph for three seasons and dozens of plays, I still shoot the performances of the incredibly talented actors who tread the boards at the Theatre in the Round.

I have rediscovered my own art by training my lens on theirs. And, as a sober man in long-term recovery, I can finally appreciate how much that means to me.

What good fortune it is to discover, here in the Dissonance community, others who are committed to art and being well. And to sharing our stories. Perhaps we all have a book to write.

Dr. Roger P. Watts is an adjunct professor at Augsburg and Concordia universities, where he teaches psychology courses, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Also a photographer, he is leading a campaign to produce a photo-documentary called "Beyond the Arena," a touring exhibit that would feature an intimate behind-the-scenes look at acting and live theater.