Capturing the impact on both sides of opioid abuse
There is a quote by Paul Shane Spear that says, "As one person, I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person."
That is what happened Wednesday night at the UAA Fine Arts building. Two weeks ago, 12 students from Steve Gordon's beginner painting class heard life stories from Cynthia Brown and Mark Weaver, both of whom were former opioid addicts. The class also heard from Kim Whitaker, president of the Opioid Task Force R.E.A.L About Addiction. Kim's daughter is an addict and lives on the streets and in the woods around Anchorage.
For the past two years, artist and teacher Steve Gordon researched hot-button topics and has his class try to capture the moment.
"I started reading about the opioid crisis we have across the country," Steve Gordon said, "I wanted to localize it to Alaska. So, I reached out to the opioid task force, attended a meeting and told them what I was looking for."
Mark Weaver, a former addict and now vice president of Fallen Up Ministries, along with Cynthia Brown, offered to share their stories, as did Kim.
"What we were looking for from Kim was the other side of addiction," Gordon said. "I wasn't looking for an addict per se. I thought Kim could maybe share her story and share a photo of her daughter. We were surprised her daughter came with."
Kim contacted her daughter initially to ask if she could use a photo of her for the class.
"When I spoke to her about the photo, I mentioned the class and asked her if she wanted to come with," Kim said. "She said she would come."
Kim has heard that line before from her daughter only to have her not show up. This time was different.
"She came," Kim said. "She even started talking to the group."
Kim's daughter, who asked that she not be identified, started to become inspired after hearing Cynthia and Mark's stories.
"It was just nice to talk to people and share a few things," Kim's daughter said. "Like that one guy (Mark), who said, 'what could I say to my friend to help him stop? Nothing. Nothing, you just have to be there for him and hope in that one split second that he decides to quit that you are there.'"
Kim and her daughter talked openly in front of the class about the addiction, about the pain and what it has done to their relationship. The discussion ended with a long overdue hug-- something Kim hasn't been able to do with her daughter for a very long time.
"I am completely amazed," Kim said. "This mural is just stunning to me. They captured every bit of the feelings I was feeling at that moment. The heart stood out to me when I was hugging my daughter heart to heart. They added the thorns around it, which the hug removed those thorns. They also included the sayings that we said. The roller coaster that keeps going faster and faster and she can't get off. The part where she said mom you were angry with me a lot, and I said because my daughter was taken. It's just so intense."
Kim's daughter says addiction can happen to anyone.
"It's not just the bum on the side of the street begging for change," Kim's daughter said, "It's everybody. Attractive people, smart people, funny people, people with jobs, it's everybody. It's not that cliché."
Through the experience, Kim's daughter says she's ready to try a treatment program again, giving Kim another chance to get her daughter back.
"She came here and then she came back again," Kim said with a smile. "She's wanting recovery. So, that's the most important thing to me is the day that I do have my daughter back, completely whole."
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