News Project attempts to remove stigma of addiction Written by J SwygartPublished by The Lima News LIMA — Individuals battling through mental illness or drug addiction often hide their pain, fear or other emotions behind a variety of masks. But through a collaborative effort between public and private organizations and businesses, those masks are being transformed from the figurative to the literal. As part of a project termed Faces of Recovery, initiated through the local Changing Seasons program, mental health clients and members of the community are painting and decorating actual life-sized face masks and are sharing their deep and personal feelings about addiction through those works of art. Maha Zehery, a community outreach liaison for Changing Seasons — a non-profit outreach center which operates under the umbrella of Coleman Professional Services — was the impetus behind the art project. Because September has been designated as Recovery Month, a time to recognize those individuals who are making inroads in their struggles with mental health or addiction issues, Zehery initiated the Faces of Recovery effort as a way for area residents to artistically express their feelings about those who struggle with addiction and recovery. The Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center provided Changing Seasons with masks for mental health clients and members of the community at large to paint and decorate for the Faces of Recovery program. Zehery said mental health and addiction issues “are a bitter subject on which we hope to put a silver lining through art. We want people to draw a mask and tell their perspective on mental health sufferers or recovering addicts.” Some masks have already been painted. Zehery’s own mask has three eyes. When asked why, she explained that, contrary to the views of some, “My clients don’t have three eyes. They’re just like you.” One of Zehery’s clients drew a mask with razor-like slashes across the face. The artist told Zehery, “People see the ugly me because I’m a drug addict. I’m cutting my face (symbolically, as depicted on the mask) because I’m on the road to recovery and I want to show my real face.” Joining Coleman Behavioral Health and the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center as partners in the Faces of Recovery project are Mercy Health/St. Rita’s Medical Center, The Meeting Place, Jameson Manor and Lima schools. Clients, community members and students at Lima schools will be sketching/drawing masks, which in turn will be displayed at Mercy Health/St. Rita’s, The Meeting Place, Coleman Professional Services and throughout the state of Ohio, courtesy of the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Services. Included with the display of each mask will be a brief story behind the artwork. Local residents who would like a mask to decorate are asked to call Zehery at 419-230-0440. She hopes the community takes advantage of the opportunity. “As we fight an opiate problem locally, we as a community all need to get together and do what we can to take care of this problem. We all live in one community,” Zehery said. “Changing Seasons envisions a community that views recovery from substance use and/or mental health challenges as a public health issue.” Zehery said the Changing Seasons outreach center, located in the basement of the YMCA Annex, “is a safe haven” for people who otherwise might have nowhere else to spend their days. Between 60 and 80 people, many of whom are battling mental health or addiction issues, come to the center daily, she said, taking advantage of computers or maybe just for a movie or a snack. Self-esteem classes are available one day each week, and other support tools are also at the disposal of those who come to the center. An open house was held Thursday evening at Jameson Manor to formally launch the Faces of Recovery program. Shannon Wannemacher offered the venue free of charge for the event. Alisa McPheron, owner of Fat Cat Catering, also donated her services.