VICTORS OF ADDICTION: Photography project puts past addicts in positive light, calls for compassion
As the daughter of an addict, one local photographer is attempting to change the way the community treats and talks about those struggling with substance abuse by focusing her camera lens on recovery rather than regret. Only eight weeks out of jail and three years clean from drugs, Danny Sebastian decided to take part in a local photoshoot aimed at celebrating several recovering addicts. It was titled the Victory Photo Shoot and took place Saturday, Oct. 8 at the L&N Depot in Stanford – the photographer of the event was Sebastian’s own daughter Summer Muldoon. With September being Recovery Awareness Month and October being National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, the photoshoot couldn’t have come at a better time. “I think a lot of the way people do approach drug issues, is that people beat everyone down,” Muldoon said. “They don’t give them second chances or give them jobs. What do they have when they’ve hit rock bottom? I think that’s what our purpose is out here even is just to lift people up more than beating them down.” The idea for Saturday’s photo session came after Muldoon’s first idea, “The Self Love Project,” went viral and caught the world’s attention last month. But she also had a personal attachment to the idea of photographing recovering addicts, as she is the child of one. “I’ve had this idea for a really long time but avoided carrying it out because I knew that it would surface a lot of memories and pain I wasn’t ready to relive yet,” Muldoon said. “But it kept coming to the front of my mind. So much so that I was losing rest over it. I found a lot of peace in declaring victory over my story. I wanted to share that peace.” Overall, in addition to Muldoon’s personal story, 18 stories were shared through the project which hosted recovering addicts, some of whom even brought their children and family members. Participants talked openly about their problems with substances such as alcohol, meth, heroin, cocaine and prescription pain pills. The “victors” were asked to bring a photo of themselves that was taken when they were using and under the influence of substances. While some brought printed photos of themselves, others pulled up previous mugshot photos on their phones. A second photo was taken of the recovering addicts as they are now – ‘claiming victory over their addiction.’ Muldoon said focusing on the triumph instead of the negatives is what the photoshoot was all about. “The deaths are what get pounded into their head and they think, ‘You know, that’s what’s down the road for me.’ They’ve given up on themselves, their families have given up, the community has given up – so what do they have,” Muldoon said. “Instead of focusing on the tragedy and giving the devil victory over all that’s going on that’s awful, (we’re) giving God glory and giving victory to people by sharing good stories just to show that there are those.” Sebastian, 50, said his past used to bother him but now he tries to use it as a tool to help others. He said he knows he’s taken from the community and just wants to give back and try to make things right. “I hope that the people that look at this, addicts that are still out there using and look at this, see there is hope,” Sebastian said. “All these addicts that’s been out here using, I’ve actually ran with them. I’ve sold all of them dope. I hope they see it and they say, ‘If he can straighten up anybody can.’” When he was 18, Sebastian joined the military where he said he developed a drinking problem. After serving six years in the U.S. Army, he went to work at a factory and would sometimes smoke marijuana but eventually graduated to cocaine. After acquiring a back injury while working in the factory, he lost his job and was prescribed pain medication. That’s when his addiction to opiates began, Sebastian said. “I fell in love when I met pain medication. Opiates was my thing,” he said. “That’s what I wanted, that’s what I loved and would do anything to get it. Whatever it took to get it.” After suffering a total of 19 car accidents and two bouts of cancer, Sebastian said he always had a reason to have the opiates and used that as an excuse to stay on them. In 2003, his drug use caught up with him after he was arrested and charged with the assault of a police officer and several drug charges. He received a 12-year prison sentence but was able to receive parole after serving four years. Muldoon was only nine-years-old when her father was arrested – she and her brother would write and visit their father while he served his time. “The other night I was talking about what I did to the kids lives. How I trashed it and hadn’t been there,” Sebastian said. “I thought going and throwing down a paycheck was being a father. That money wasn’t what was important. I don’t understand it a lot of times but they were there for me.” He was able to stay clean for seven years after being released from prison, a time period during which he attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings at two separate places and even served as the chairperson for both. In 2009, Sebastian relapsed after he was given morphine following another car accident that left his back broken in four places. “My addiction came back just that quick,” he said. A few years later, Sebastian was arrested on three felony drug charges and spent a little over two of his four-year sentence in prison before being released on parole. He now attends a Substance Abuse Treatment (SAT) program in Lancaster three days a week, helps out with the Garrard Leadership Against Drugs (GLAD) Coalition and attends the Celebrate Recovery meetings at the Pentecostal Fellowship Church. “I’m thankful to be out and I’m thankful for the programs,” he said. “Most of all I want to thank God. He took the desire out of my heart.” For 38-year-old Cassandre Rosenbum, it was faith in God that she said pulled her out of drug addiction. Rosenbum started smoking pot when she was 15 and said she didn’t know a sober day until a little over a year ago. By the time she was 16 she was using cocaine and drinking whiskey before school as her breakfast. Rosenbum said she started dating older men and experimenting with other drugs like LSD. After the end of a 14-year marriage and having to share custody of her children, Rosenbum began experimenting with opiates. “I always said I wouldn’t walk across the street for a truckload of pills. Don’t ever say never because one night I said ‘okay.’ Within a week that was just my lifestyle,” she said. As what she called a ‘functioning addict,’ Rosenbaum said she would abuse pills while still going to work and taking care of her children. She would snort a 30 milligram Percocet before work, another one on her lunch break and a third when she got home from work. It took the loss of her mother, a pivotal moment in her life, for Rosenbum to find the will to change. It was then she said she turned her life over to God. “I was raised knowing God but I turned my back on him a lot,” she said. “Slowly but surely his light starting shining in my life again.” Rosenbum has written over 700 poems about her journey from her lowest point to her highest point. She loves to paint, is going to school to be a journalist, shares her testimony at local churches and does women’s prison ministry at the Boyle County Detention Center. “I go in this jail and I see women that I’ve dealt with on a different level,” she said. “I’m walking in with my Bible and the last time they saw me they were buying something from me or I was buying something from them.” But the jail around her and the inmates, the jump suits they’re wearing, all disappears when she visits them, she said. “I tell them that I’m there in the form of hope,” Rosenbum said. “When I go in there I sit on the floor and I put them in chairs because I’m not above them. I want to sit on their level because I am them and they are me. They can see through my tears that they’re more of a blessing to me to help me heal than I think am to them.” Muldoon said the amount of encouragement the recovering addicts offered while at the event surprised her most during the project. They would stick around to share stories and were incredibly eager to find ways to give back, Muldoon said. Most of all, though, she was proud of her father. “As much as I love him, it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt really proud of him,” Muldoon said. “I’m used to apologizing for him passing out in public or trying to prove myself as good enough or different while he’s being arrested. It was so refreshing to just stand back and be proud.” The Victory Photo shoot received immediate attention from the community after Muldoon posted the photos to Facebook with hundreds of likes within just 24 hours. Muldoon wrote on her post, “If we want to take steps towards healing our community, We have to share resources that have proved successful. We have to give second and third chances. We have to celebrate those who have found strength to fight. We have to make the voices of victory valid.” To read to stories of all of the recovering addicts, you can find Muldoon’s Victory Photo shoot on her Facebook page. Visit www.theinteriorjournal.com to see more photos from the project.
FOR LOCAL SUBSTANCE ABUSE RESOURCES: • H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Prisoners Escape) – for information on substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation centers, drug addiction resources and local meetings call (606) 669-9955. • To submit monthly meeting announcements for local support groups email firstname.lastname@example.org. • The GLAD Coalition meets the third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. at the Lancaster United Methodist Church located at 200 Stanford St. Lancaster, KY. • Celebrate Recovery meetings are at the Pentecostal Fellowship Church on Thursday’s from 7 to 9 p.m. The church is located at 574 Jaycees Park Rd. in Lancaster. • A Substance Abuse Treatment Program can be found at the Garrard County Comprehensive Care Center located at 322 Crab Orchard St. in Lancaster.