The Recovery Street Film festival is a yearly competition open to people who have experience of substance addiction. This year Masha Tiunova went to the showing of the shortlist, here she writes her reflections. 

The Recovery Street Film Festival focuses on filmmakers who have a lived experience of recovering from drug or alcohol use, whether it is themselves or a loved one. For the festival, a  filmmaker is anyone who can make a film, “all you need is a storyline and a fairly up-to-date smartphone.” The 2023 festival was launched in June, and the awards ceremony and screening took place on 29th September at the Everyman cinema in Chelsea. It was hosted by the comedian Felicity Ward, who also shared her own journey of recovery. 

Just like every share you hear at the 12-step meetings, where you can always find something to relate to, I was touched by every film I saw. Some of the stories were particularly relevant, and one film I was particularly moved by was ‘Just Want a Normal Life’. According to the description on the program “Caia shares her story of addiction and the impact this had on her as a mother. Following her stay in rehab, Caia reflects on what she wants to achieve to have a normal life with her daughter”. Caia’s story of growing up in an addict’s home, starting using and getting pregnant as a teenager is not an easy one to listen to. “People think addicts like getting high or getting smashed. It’s not that. It’s not fun. To feel the emptiness I feel inside me every single day, that pain…I don’t like doing drugs, it’s not fun. I do it to get away from that horrible feeling inside me…”’” Caia tells us in the film. She is 6 months without using at the moment of recording, and she’s “really trying to have a normal life.” 

My own child was born when I was 3 years sober. He’s never seen me drunk or high. Parenting is the hardest job I know, and he’s my biggest teacher. I came to Adult Children of Alcoholics after I became a mother because I realised I couldn’t pass on what was passed on to me. My child has complex needs – I’m a single migrant mother, and this past month has been particularly challenging with the transition to secondary school. There are ongoing CAMHS and SCAS assessments, trying to make sense of what the Gender Identity Development Service is becoming (and when!) and day-to-day challenges from restrictedly patterned food cooking to bullying at school. I haven’t had time to work, opportunities to rest or go to meetings.

Caia’s story has reminded me, however, how priceless it is to be able to raise a child sober. Being lost in the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I doing?’ I reminded myself that I’m just a recovering addict who wants to have a normal life. And life, as imperfect and unfair as it sometimes seems, and the challenges of motherhood are nuances you can afford when you’ve been sober for a while. What if I was on my first day of sobriety and I was really trying to stay sober for my son? What would I do then? I would focus on my recovery.

Felicity Ward talked about the courage and bravery of the artists who submitted their work, and she also stated how important it was for her to have a creative outlet. As someone who didn’t have a creative outlet in the early years of recovery, it made me think how profoundly helpful it can be in the new identity building. “We asked His protection and care with complete abandon” – says the Big Book of AA. We’re abandoning the life we knew, our habits, friends who do not support our recovery and start anew. Sometimes this complete abandon means leaving behind the parts of us which maybe did serve us well, but we didn’t have the tools to integrate them healthily into our new selves. When I was watching the films, I thought about how this filmmaking impacted the people in the process. Being able, like Caia, to share the story with a wider audience, being witnessed, being a character in the film, being a filmmaker. The more I think about it, the more I am inspired by recovery arts and the more belief I have in performing recovery.

You can watch the shortlist for the 2023 RSFF here





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