From Guidepoints, June 2008 – for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association
Besides teaching the ear needling technique, NADA registered trainers work hard to help trainees “feel the lives” of the addict and alcoholic clientele they will be treating. Creating such an experience for trainees can be difficult, especially in situations where there is no access to an appropriate clinical environment where the learners can observe and participate in real treatment of real patients.
A new film could help address this need. While numerous filmmakers have tried to present addiction and recovery realistically, Brian Lindstrom actually succeeds with his Finding Normal. Field professionals who have seen the film feel that it depicts the heart of addiction medicine. The sincerity of Lindstrom’s work lies in portraying how hard is the work of recovery, both for the addict and, perhaps even more so, for those in the healer role.
The story unfolds entirely from the words and actions of the characters, who play themselves in their real life status as staff members or clients. There is no voice-over or other narrative crutch to explain or guide the viewer. But unlike many documentaries portraying nitty-gritty subjects, this film does not test the audience’s tolerance for tedium. One big city movie critic described Finding Normal as “gripping and moving” and “a terrifying, elating thrill ride”.
And anyone who has worked in chemical dependency, or gone through treatment, will realize immediately that what the people on-screen are saying and doing is exactly true to life.
The addictions field has long derived its energy and spirit from the men and women who, as staff or volunteers, bring their own journey of recovery into the work they do for those who still suffer. This film depicts the “mentor project”, an activity that has possibly gone the furthest in its application of this source of healing power.
The project grew up inside of Central City Concern (CCC), a large, multi-site housing/treatment service operating in the Portland, Oregon area. The impact of a local heroin plague several years ago demanded a new type of response from the human services system. The long-experienced CCC found the opiate-dependent patients that were flooding its detox units were not staying in treatment long enough to start recovery work.
The special project’s mentors are men and women who became CCC staff members after escaping from their own desperate careers in the addiction underworld. All have their own, personal street, drug house (and often prison) experiences. They know what those still trapped in drugs and alcohol really need to begin their own route out of bondage.
The film shows the mentors meeting new clients and remaining in close contact during the crucial early days and weeks of treatment engagement. As the clients encounter issues and begin to self-reveal, each mentor moves from the role of nurturing parent, to confrontative counselor, to listening post, to crucial source of needed services such as housing,.
That the work of a mentor feels good comes across; also that at times it can inflict major pain. Jill Kahnert, the emotional center of the film, shows the camera the mixture of stoicism, disappointment and fury stirred in her when a client does not stick with the program. One sees that such experiences add to Jill’s store of hard wisdom, yet always take a toll. Viewers see that while sharing much in common with the struggling clients, the mentors, reflecting always on their own close calls, know much more keenly that their work is all about life and death.
(CCC has long been a high-profile user of the NADA protocol, although the acupuncture service plays no role in this particular depiction of the agency’s work. A recent outside evaluator found that CCC mentor/housing program participants showed a 95% reduction in the use of illegal drugs and a 93% decline in criminal activity.)
The length of a typical feature film, Finding Normal would work to energize and enlighten those taking part in any NADA training format. While educating those new to the field about the reality of the work, the film will elicit discussion and provide the trainer with useful illustrations of various clinical situations. Trainee reactions to what they see will offer strong clues to the trainer as to which members of the class should be encouraged to go forward in the addictions field. The film may be seen at festivals and a broadcast and DVD release may be in the offing. For up to date information, contact: www.brianlindstromfilms.com